"Food for Memory": Pictorial Food-Related Memory Bias and the Role of Thought Suppression in High and Low Restrained Eaters

By Soetens, Barbara; Roets, Arne et al. | The Psychological Record, Winter 2014 | Go to article overview

"Food for Memory": Pictorial Food-Related Memory Bias and the Role of Thought Suppression in High and Low Restrained Eaters


Soetens, Barbara, Roets, Arne, Raes, Filip, The Psychological Record


Dietary restraint is defined as the intention to restrict food intake in order to control body weight (Herman and Mack 1975). In Western societies, dieting attempts are widespread, with prevalence rates as high as 60 and 25 % in female and male adolescents, respectively (Daee et al. 2002). Yet, dieting attempts are not without risk. Several longitudinal studies have revealed that restrained eating can predict the onset and maintenance of eating disorders (Stice et al. 2011), making restrained eaters a key focus group when trying to gain insight in the aetiology of disordered eating.

According to the leading cognitive theory of eating pathology, our thinking is organized by so-called schemas (Williamson et al. 2004). Schemas are knowledge structures, involved in guiding information processing (Neisser 1976). In eating pathology, schemas reflect an overconcern with food, weight, and/or shape (Cooper and Fairburn 1992). It has been suggested that food-focussed schemas not only exist in clinical eating-disordered patients (see Mizes and Christiano 1995, for a review) but also characterize restrained eaters (Hoffmeister et al. 2010; Morris et al. 2001).

The three best-known theoretical consequences of the activation of such schemas are (a) selective attention, (b)judge-ment bias, and (c) memory bias for schema-consistent stimuli (Vitousek and Hollon 1990; Williamson et al. 2004). These cognitive biases are considered pivotal in the psychopathology of eating disorders and are assumed to instigate maladap-tive weight control behaviors (Overduin et al. 1995). Selective attention toward food cues or problems in directing attention away from food cues have been established quite extensively in eating-disordered and restrained eaters (for review, see Brooks et al. 2011a, b). Although studied to a lesser extent, there is also evidence for a schema-consistent perceptual judgement bias (i.e., how the perception of food-related stimuli is altered in relation to an individual's current concerns), particularly in restrained eaters (e.g., Brooks et al. 2011a, b). Studies about memory biases, however, are still scarce. In patients with eating disorders, studies so far have yielded mixed results. Some studies indicated a memory bias for food- or body-related cues in (satiated) women with anorexia nervosa (e.g., Nikcndei et al. 2008; Tekcan et al. 2008), yet other studies failed to find a memory bias (e.g., Hunt and Cooper 2001) or even found poorer recollection of body-related stimuli in individuals with bulimia nervosa (Legenbauer et al. 2010). Despite their obvious relevance, studies about food-related memory biases in restrained caters are almost non-existent. To our knowledge, only two studies have been conducted to date. In a study by Boon et al. (2000), restrained eaters were found to need less time in recalling food words compared to neutral words. Israeli and Stewart (2001) found that contrary to their predictionN, high restrained eaters did not remember more food cues than low restrained eaters did. However, the former group did remember more food words than animal words, which according to the authors, may suggest a relative memory bias for food cues in restrained eaters. Given the scarcity and inconclusiveness of previous research on memory biases in this relevant group of restrained eaters on the one hand, and the central role of memory biases in cognitive theory on the other hand, further research is definitely warranted.

Hence, the prime focus of the current study is to examine a food-related memory bias in restrained eaters. Unique to the present study, three novel aims are included. First of all, the two studies with restrained eaters conducted so far have both used food words as cues. Yet, in real-life situations, food-related information is more commonly presented in the form of images (e.g., billboards, commercials) than written words. A study by Storniark and Torkildsen (2004) already showed the relevance of including pictorial food stimuli in studying selective attentional processing in patients with eating disorders. …

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