Animals can learn that specific contexts are associated with important biological events such as food intake through classical conditioning. Very few studies suggest this is also possible in humans and contextual appetitive conditioning might even be a main determinant of habitual overeating in vulnerable humans. A Virtual Reality laboratory was used to test whether humans show conditioned responding (increased food desires and expectations, increased salivation and increased food intake) to a specific context after repeated pairings of this context with intake. It was also examined whether the personality trait impulsivity strengthens this contextual appetitive conditioning. Conditioned context-induced reactivity was indeed demonstrated and impulsivity predicted increased intake in only the intake-associated context. It is concluded that humans easily learn desires to eat in intake-related environments. The data also suggest that in particular more impulsive people are vulnerable for conditioned context-induced overeating. This relatively easy learning of associations between specific contexts and intake might stimulate habitual overeating and contribute to increased obesity prevalence.
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- Appetitive conditioning, Impulsivity, Cue reactivity, Salivation, Overeating, CUE EXPOSURE, FOOD-INTAKE, PERSONALITY, ENVIRONMENTS, REALITY, RELAPSE, OBESITY, MODEL