OBJECTIVE: Even though people suffering from high levels of food craving are aware of the negative consequences of binge eating, they cannot resist. Automatic action tendencies (i.e. approach bias) towards food cues that operate outside conscious control may contribute to this dysfunctional behavior. The present study aimed to examine whether people with high levels of food craving show a stronger approach bias for food than those with low levels of food craving and whether this bias is associated with cue-elicited food craving.
METHOD: Forty-one individuals reporting either extremely high or extremely low levels of trait food craving were recruited via an online screening and compared regarding approach bias towards visual food cues by means of an implicit stimulus-response paradigm (i.e. the Food Approach-Avoidance Task). State levels of food craving were assessed before and after cue exposure to indicate food cue reactivity.
RESULTS: As expected, high food cravers showed stronger automatic approach tendencies towards food than low food cravers. Also in line with the hypotheses, approach bias for food was positively correlated with the magnitude of change in state levels of food craving from pre-to post-cue exposure in the total sample.
DISCUSSION: The findings suggest that an approach bias in early stages of information processing contributes to the inability to resist food intake and may be of relevance for understanding and treating dysfunctional eating behavior.