Implicit modulation of food cravings via facial feedback in emotional eaters


  • J. Schmidt
  • A. Krause
  • A. Martin


Background: During the last years, techniques for implicit health behaviour changes gained increasing attention. While there is a general consensus on the importance of automatic processes in modifying health behaviours, little research hitherto examined effects of implicit emotion and behaviour modification based on embodiment. The present study aimed at assessing modulatory effects of facial feedback on motivational food craving - as a relevant antecedent of dysfunctional eating behaviours. We further explored the moderating role of trait ‘emotional eating’. Method: A total of 61 women participated in an experiment based on food cue exposure and simultaneous manipulation of facial muscle activity. A read-aloud task either manipulated zygomatic muscle activity (smiling) or corrugator muscle activity (frowning). Participants rated their state food cravings before and after the cue exposure with the experimental tasks. Traits in emotional eating were assessed by self-report (DEBQ). Findings: The manipulation of zygomatic muscle activity prevented an increase in food craving (p=.408), while cravings increased during corrugator muscle activation (p=.029). A significant interaction (p=.041) showed, that the facial feedback effect was especially pronounced in individuals with high degrees of emotional eating. Here, smiling even reduced food cravings. Discussion: The study shows that implicit modulations of motivational food cravings can be achieved by means of facial feedback. Targeting facial expressions associated with relevant emotional states may constitute another promising approach to prevent dysfunctional health behaviours, like overeating due to food cravings. Emotional eaters might especially benefit from such implicit techniques.





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