Positive and negative emotions' effects on food preferences: evidence from an online experimental study

  • S. Pintea
  • O. Petre
  • D. Taut


Background: Increased responsiveness to food cues in response to (social) stress is a widely studied although with conflicting evidence. Less is known about the effect of positive social emotions on behaviors related to eating. This study's aim was to investigate the role of these positive and negative emotions on food choices from a virtual store and preferences for adverts on healthy/unhealthy foods. Method: 142 participants were recruited for an online study in which they were randomly assigned to a bogus positive feedback (53%) or to a negative one comparing their performance in building an argument on a controversial topic with that of their confederates. Secondly, they were asked to rate a healthy versus unhealthy food commercial (salad versus pizza) and then to select from a virtual predefined list of products those they would like eating at that moment. Results: There was a main effect of emotion on the total number of picked food items (d = 0.34), with those experiencing negative emotions choosing a smaller number of food items compared with the other ones (M = 4.48, SD = 2.64), although participants experiencing positive emotions chose a larger number of healthy foods ( d = 1.47). There were no effects of either positive or negative emotions on the ratings for healthy/unhealthy food adverts. Discussion: The results point to a complex picture in which people experiencing positive emotions do choose more food items but their choices are generally healthy, while stressed participants prefer comfort foods rather than healthier ones.
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