Power of mind: Attentional focus rather than palatability dominates neural responding to visual food stimuli in females with overweight

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Research investigating neural responses to visual food stimuli has produced inconsistent results. Crucially, high-caloric palatable foods have a double-sided nature - they are often craved but are also considered unhealthy - which may have contributed to the inconsistency in the literature. Taking this double-sided nature into account in the current study, neural responses to individually tailored palatable and unpalatable high caloric food stimuli were measured, while participants' (females with overweight: n = 23) attentional focus was manipulated to be either hedonic or neutral. Notably, results showed that the level of neural activity was not significantly different for palatable than for unpalatable food stimuli. Instead, independent of food palatability, several brain regions (including regions in the mesocorticolimbic system) responded more strongly when attentional focus was hedonic than when neutral (p < 0.05, cluster-based FWE corrected). Multivariate analyses showed that food palatability could be decoded from multi-voxel patterns of neural activity (p < 0.05, FDR corrected), mostly with a hedonic attentional focus. These findings illustrate that the level of neural activity might not be proportionate to the palatability of foods, but that food palatability can be decoded from multi-voxel patterns of neural activity. Moreover, they underline the importance of considering attentional focus when measuring food-related neural responses.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104609
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2020

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