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The effect of priming and mindfulness on food choice and decision making

Farrar, S. (2020). The effect of priming and mindfulness on food choice and decision making. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


Overweight and obesity are argued to be one of the greatest public health challenges of the 21st century, partly explained by the excessive consumption of foods and beverages that have a high energy density and are also highly palatable. Consequently, it is important to understand the factors that contribute to these choices in order to find ways of promoting healthier decisions. Priming involves the activation of a mental concept in memory which increases the accessibility of this concept and the likelihood it will be assimilated into subsequent information processing. Priming is an important phenomenon for the simple reason that priming occurs automatically outside of awareness, meaning there is no way for an individual to counter the prime stimuli perceived. Therefore, the main aim of this thesis was to gain a deeper understanding of how prime stimuli specifically influence eating and drinking behaviour. Chapter Two is a systematic review that explicated the present state of the field by identifying all the research to date that has examined the effects of priming on the choice and intake of foods and beverages. One of the main findings of the review was that the majority of research has been laboratory-based with few studies conducted in the field. Therefore, Chapter Three is a field study that aimed to examine the effect of priming on snack choice in a real-world setting; this study also employed food-related logos as prime stimuli to more closely reflect the stimuli encountered in daily life. As the study found no effect of the prime stimuli on snack choice, Chapter Four examined whether unhealthy food-related logos could increase the selection of unhealthy foods in a laboratory setting. The results showed that participants in the prime condition were no more likely to select unhealthy foods than participants in the control condition, although this may have been due to the priming task employed. As priming effects are automatic, Chapter Five examined whether a brief mindfulness exercise could reduce the influence of automatic processes and increase the influence of conscious processes as measured by two cognitive tests. Although the results showed no difference between the conditions on either of the cognitive tests, trait measures of mindfulness and rational thinking style showed a strong positive correlation that was highly significant. Overall, the potential for brand logos to act as prime stimuli and the potential for mindfulness to reduce the influence of automatic processes both require further research. Although these are fairly new areas of research, the findings could have significant implications for future policies that are introduced to tackle the present obesity epidemic.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: Doctoral Theses
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > School of Health & Psychological Sciences Doctoral Theses
[thumbnail of Final Thesis - Copyright Images Removed.pdf]
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