Date of Award:

1999

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)

Department:

Psychology

Advisor/Chair:

David M. Stein

Abstract

Many dieters and compulsive overeaters report that sugar and chocolate are the most commonly craved foods. Further, many individuals have proclaimed themselves to be "addicted" to sugar or chocolate. It remains unclear, however, what factors lead to report of specific food addictions. A number of researchers have suggested that highly repetitive consumption of sugar and chocolate may result from various physiological processes (e.g., neurochemical imbalances, glucose/insulin malfunctioning). However, there is also considerable evidence that psychosocial factors (i.e., expectancies, classical, and operant conditioning) play the major role in the development and maintenance of excessive sugar,chocolate intake. Empirical studies examining factors that underlie this behavior are almost nonexistent. Therefore, it is useful for researchers to explore perspectives about the causes of addictive or compulsive behavior. This study addressed the question, "Are adverse eating symptoms/outcomes for women who believe they are addicted to sugar or chocolate explained primarily by learning factors or by the key chemical constituents in these foods?"

This study involved procedures that influenced subjects' perceptions and expectations about the sugar/chocolate content of a beverage (i.e., real chocolate, sugar versus synthetic substitute [placebo]) in a laboratory taste test situation. In an ABAB experimental design, self-avowed addict and control subjects were tested on four consecutive days receiving two chocolate/sugar (A) and two placebo (B) beverages. Changes in mood and food cravings were measured, as was an index of perceived eating dyscontrol following the consumption of beverages. In addition to establishing a baseline measure each day, subjects' mood and cravings were assessed immediately after consumption of chocolate or placebo as well as 45 minutes later.

The responses (mood, food cravings, food intake) that occurred after exposure to drinks containing placebo or sugar/chocolate suggested that subjects do not always respond in the manner they purport to (e.g., increased cravings, mood improvement, subsequent overeating of treats). Other factors such as learning and conditioning may play a key role in accounting for their report of excessive behavior. Specifically, individuals who believe they are addicted to sugar or chocolate evidence similar responses and symptoms irrespective of wether they consumed a placebo versus sugar or chocolate.

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