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Viewing Images, Words Enough to Satisfy "Depression" Food Cravings

Update Date: Mar 11, 2014 06:49 PM EDT

Viewing images of chocolate and pizza may be enough to satisfy unhealthy cravings when you're feeling down, according to a new study.

New research reveals that people who were exposed to indulgent words or images and then made to feel sad actually consumed less indulgent foods like M&M's and chocolate chip cookies than those who were first exposed to neutral words and images.

Researchers conducted a series of five experiments, and monitored the behavior of participants who looked at either indulgent of neutral words or images. Participants looked at a series of print ads that featured pleasurable foods like pizza and chocolate cake or neutral print ads that featured washing machines and electric cars. Later, participants were made to feel sad by completing a writing task that made them feel sad. After the writing task, participants were given to opportunity to eat indulgent foods like M&M's and chocolate chip cookies.

Lead researchers Anthony Salerno, Juliano Laran (both University of Miami), and Chris Janiszewski (University of Florida) found that participants who were first exposed to pleasurable information and then made to feel sad decreased their consumption of indulgent foods. These participants were also more likely to say that eating junk food is bad for health.

On the other hand, those who were exposed to neutral information and made to feel sad were more likely to increase their consumption of junk food, according to the study.

"We found that when people who are sad are exposed to pictures of indulgent food or indulgent words, their sadness highlights the negative consequences of indulging and encourages them to indulge less," researchers wrote in the study.

"Our research has important implications for consumers, particularly as obesity remains a major health concern in the United States. For brands looking to understand what triggers help and hinder people in their ability to eat healthy foods, we provide insight into when sadness might aid consumers in becoming less prone to indulging in unhealthy foods on a daily basis," researchers concluded.

The findings are published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

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