Journal article Open Access
In a post-scarcity world, energy intake and excesses therein are mediated by psychological mechanisms, such as implicit inclinations to approach certain foods. We investigated how food deprivation, calorie content and individual food preferences affect this approach bias. Sixty women performed a touchscreen-based approach-avoidance task featuring a wide range of food items, once while satiated and once while food-deprived for 15 h. We found an overall approach bias towards food that was not influenced by food deprivation or calorie density of the food items. Instead, we found that approach bias related to the participants’ (lack of) desire to eat specific food items, and to a lesser extent to how much their general desire to eat changed due to food deprivation. Links with food preference were selective to trials in which foods had to be approached, and were absent in trials in which foods had to be avoided, pointing to selectivity to appetitive brain systems and clarifying the nature of the bias. Approach bias was unrelated to overall state or trait food craving. We conclude approach bias for appetitive stimuli may primarily express itself as speeded approach rather than slowed avoidance. Additionally, our results show there is merit in personalizing stimulus selection for approach bias measurement and retraining, as approach bias was concordant with individual food preferences, rather than objective calorie content.