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Imagining bodily states, like feeling full, can affect our future preferences and behaviour

13 December 2017

Our current bodily states influence our preferences and our behaviour much more than we usually anticipate – as anyone who has gone shopping hungry and come back with bags full of fattening food can attest.

“Even when people have previous experience with a powerful visceral state, like pain, they show surprisingly little ability to vividly recall the state or to predict how it affects someone (including themselves) when they are not experiencing it,” write Janina Steinmertz at Utrecht University and her colleagues in their paper in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

The good news is their research suggests we can exploit this phenomenon – we can trick ourselves into thinking we’re feeling differently, thereby influencing our preferences in ways that help us. For instance, one potentially important finding from their paper was that people who thought themselves full went on to choose smaller food portion sizes.

The research builds on earlier work that’s found that getting people to consider a particular experience can have a similar effect as actually doing it. For example, people who looked at pictures of salty, savoury foods and rated how much they’d enjoy them, subsequently enjoyed eating peanuts less than others who’d first looked at images of sweet foods. It’s as if merely considering salty food had led to a degree of satiation.

Read more on our Research Digest blog.

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