Journal article Open Access

Approach–avoidance tendencies towards food: Measurement on a touchscreen and the role of attention and food craving

Meule, Adrian; Lender, Anja; Richard, Anna; Dinic, Radomir; Blechert, Jens

Automatic approach tendencies are often assessed with joystick-based approach–avoidance tasks (AATs). In line with similar studies, we have previously shown that individuals show an approach bias towards palatable food only when picture valence (i.e., the content of the picture) is relevant for task performance. In the current study, we adapted this joystick-based AAT for implementation on a touchscreen, which required participants to perform more naturalistic approach–avoidance movements. One-hundred and seven participants (73% female) were instructed to pull or push pictures of chocolate-containing food and non-edible objects either based on picture content (content group, n = 36), frame color (frame group, n = 35), or a symbol superimposed in the center of each picture (symbol group, n = 36). No approach bias towards food was detected in either group. However, trait chocolate craving and a general preference for chocolate related to higher approach bias scores only in the content group, but not in the frame or symbol group. In addition, only participants in the content group reported increases of current chocolate craving throughout the task. While this touchscreen-based AAT did not replicate results from its joystick-based equivalent, results are in line with suggestions that explicit task instructions may be preferred over implicit task instructions (i.e., when participants have to respond to valence-irrelevant features). Future studies may examine if and how touchscreen-based AATs can be implemented for modifying approach tendencies towards unhealthy food and, ultimately, reducing consumption of these foods.

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