The effect of approach bias modification on healthy food consumption

  • N. Kakoschke
  • E. Kemps
  • M. Tiggemann


Background: Previous research has shown that automatic tendencies to approach unhealthy food can be modified using the approach-avoidance task. To date, few studies have investigated whether approach bias can be re-trained toward healthy food cues. Thus to increase the practical application of approach bias modification in the eating domain, this study aimed to examine the effect of modifying approach bias for healthy and unhealthy food cues on subsequent food consumption. In addition, the potential moderating role of trait impulsivity was examined in determining the effect of training on consumption. Methods: Participants were 200 undergraduate women (17-26 years) randomly allocated to one of five conditions of an approach-avoidance task varying in the training of approach bias for healthy food, unhealthy food, and non-food cues. Outcome variables were approach bias for healthy and unhealthy food and the proportion of healthy relative to unhealthy food consumed. Findings: As predicted, approach bias for healthy food significantly increased in the ‘avoid unhealthy/approach healthy food’ condition. Importantly, the effect of training on consumption was moderated by trait impulsivity. Participants with high trait impulsivity consumed a greater proportion of healthy snack food following the ‘avoid unhealthy/approach healthy food’ training. Discussion: The findings support the suggestion that automatic processing of appetitive cues has a greater influence on eating behaviour among individuals who have poor self-regulatory control. They further suggest that approach bias modification may be one way to effectively encourage highly impulsive people, such as overweight and obese individuals, to eat more healthy food and less unhealthy food.