Children’s and Adult’s Visual Attention to Healthy and Unhealthy Food: Comparing Self-Regulatory Capacity
A. F. Junghans1, I.I. Hooge2, J. Maas1, C. Evers1, D.T. D. De Ridder1
1Utrecht University, Department of Clinical and Health Psychology, NL
2Utrecht University, Department of Experimental Psychology, NL
Background: Visual attention to unhealthy food triggers the urge to eat and thereby creates self-control conflicts in people trying to eat healthily. Avoiding visual attention to unhealthy food can thus be considered a self-regulatory strategy. Self-regulatory capacity has been shown to develop throughout childhood and adolescence suggesting that adults self regulate better than children. Methods: Using a novel eye-tracking paradigm children's and adults' initial fixation (bottom-up) and retained dwell time (top-down), were measured upon exposure to healthy and unhealthy food pictures. Findings: Results revealed increased initial attention to unhealthy food in children and adults. For retained attention however, adults self-regulated their visual attention away from the unhealthy towards the healthy food, while children did not self-regulate visual attention away from unhealthy food despite their self-reported attempts to eat healthily. Discussion: These findings emphasize the necessity of improving children's self-regulatory skills to support healthy eating in an obesogenic environment and promote a novel technique of examining self-regulatory capacity.