Associations Impacting Food Choices


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A thesis Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of MASTER OF ARTS In PSYCHOLOGY from Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Food choice behavior is subject not only to cognitive and behavioral factors, but also to physiological motivational processes and implicit associations. The rising obesity rate suggests that purely cognitive-behavioral interventions fail to change food choices in lasting ways. While researchers have explored a variety of measures to assess and manipulate covert, non-conscious food associations, there continues to be little evidence that these techniques change overt behavior. Three experiments attempted to better illuminate the potential pathway between implicit associations and overt food choice by untangling the confounds of calorie content and stimulus modality that have pervaded current literature. Study 1 piloted the efficacy of a new Implicit Association Test (IAT) as a measure of differential attitudes toward food by calorie content, revealing that participants hold implicitly unpleasant attitudes toward obesogenic food words. Study 2 substantiated this effect across stimulus modality, and found little evidence that the IAT predicted long-term food preferences. Study 3 integrated a discrete food choice task and a semantic priming procedure; the IAT failed to predict food choice while explicit measures succeeded, and the influence of a semantic priming task on IAT scores suggests the IAT is a measure of semantic associations, not implicit preference. Participants demonstrated a substantial unpleasant bias toward obesogenic foods across all studies, consistent with literature on implicit biases toward substances of abuse.
Psychology & Sociology
College of Liberal Arts