Mood And Future Thinking Determines Food Choices: Study
February 18, 2014

Mood And Future Thinking Determines Food Choices: Study

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

How we look at our future could impact our eating habits, according to a study by University of Delaware researchers. The team found that stress and thinking about the future could either help or hurt people in making better food choices.

“We were interested in the ‘why,’” University of Delaware associate professor Meryl Gardner said in a statement. “Why when someone is in a bad mood will they choose to eat junk food and why when someone is in a good mood will they make healthier food choices?”

The researchers conducted four laboratory experiments to understand if people in a positive mood would prefer healthy food or junk food for long-term health and well-being benefits. They also wanted to understand if those in a negative mood would prefer indulgent foods to healthy foods for the immediate comfort.

The team found that individuals in a positive mood evaluated healthy foods more favorably than indulgent foods, compared to a control group of participants in a relatively neutral mood.

“We expect this is possibly because they put more weight on abstract, higher-level benefits like health and future well-being,” said Gardner. “The remaining question was whether individuals in a negative mood would act differently.”

She said the findings showed that people in a positive mood liked the more nutritious options and also liked the idea of staying healthy in their old age, suggesting that a positive mood makes people think about the future.

“Our manipulations of mood in the first two studies involved having participants read positive, negative or neutral articles,” said Gardner. “As it turned out, the positive articles involved someone who had a great life and achieved lots of goals, and the negative articles involved someone who had a sad life and did not achieve goals. So the reviewers wondered whether the findings were due to the manipulation having involved goal achievement or the manipulation having led to different moods.”

A third study helped prove that the findings were not caused by differences in thinking about goal achievement. The team showed in this study that mood not only affects evaluations of nutritious versus indulgent foods, but also affects actual consumption.

Ultimately, the study proves that individuals select healthy or indulgent foods based on their moods, which is an area of research considered under-represented in past clinical studies that looked at the role of healthy foods.

The team said their findings support the idea that trying to focus on something other than the present can reduce the consumption of indulgent foods.

“If people in a bad mood typically choose to eat foods that have an immediate, indulgent reward, it might be more effective to encourage what we call mood repair motivation, or calling their attention to more innocuous ways to enhance their mood,” said Gardner. “Instead of looking at nutrition and warning labels, try talking to friends or listening to music.”