The role of attentional control in understanding attention biases for food in women and men.

Kate Mulgrew, Luke Crater, Nina Brooks, Melanie White, Eva Kemps, Karina Rune

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Attention bias refers to the preferential processing of certain cues in the environment. Biases are often automatic and occur with little awareness. Rapid detection of threatening information has been shown to underlie a number of conditions, such as anxiety, phobias, eating disorders, body dissatisfaction, and chronic pain. Applied to the eating domain, rapid detection of unhealthy foods may lead to increased craving, external eating, increased consumption, and eventually unintended weight gain. One factor shown to moderate attention biases in other domains is attentional control, which refers to the ability to focus on, and shift between, tasks. Here, we present the first research to examine attentional control within the context of bias for food cues.
Across two studies, 53 women (Mage = 29 years) and 69 men (Mage = 33 years) completed the Attentional Control Scale (Derryberry & Reed, 2002) followed by a dot-probe task one week later. The dot-probe task measured attention bias for healthy (e.g., apple) and unhealthy (e.g., pizza) food pictures.
Sex differences emerged across key variables: males had greater attentional control while females had greater attention bias for healthy foods. There were no sex differences on attention bias for unhealthy foods. In relation to attention control and attention bias, our results showed that the attentional control process of shifting, but not focusing, moderated response to food cues. These results were only found in women and showed that women with greater self-reported ability to shift attention between tasks had a larger bias away from food cues compared to women with lower shifting ability.
These findings support the importance of dual processing models within the context of response to food cues. Our results suggest that both automatic, bottom-up (i.e., attention bias) and controlled, top-down (i.e., attentional control) processes are important in understanding how food cues are processed and how biases may be modified. The ability to shift attention away from undesired food cravings may help with healthier food choices in the long-term.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Event9th World Congress of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies. - Berlin, Berlin, Germany
Duration: 17 Jul 201920 Jul 2019


Conference9th World Congress of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies.


  • Attention control
  • diet
  • biases


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