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The role of olfactory stimulation on automatic action tendencies in obesity

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Jarrett, M. (2020). The role of olfactory stimulation on automatic action tendencies in obesity. Master Thesis, University of Helsinki, Finland.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0008-20FD-7
Obesity is a major health concern, however, the role of olfaction on automatic action tendencies (AATs) and eating behaviour is understudied. The current study investigated AATs, that is approaching problematic stimuli rather compulsively, towards food and their relation to trait food cravings.

65 participants (33 females, mean age 28.5 years, mean BMI 28.63 kg/m2) completed a modified Approach- Avoidance Task towards ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ food pictures with simultaneous odour stimulation (orange, chocolate). It was investigated whether odour stimulation influences AATs in normal weight and obese participants. Possible group differences were analysed with a repeated-measures multivariate analysis of variance. Further, the relation of AATs and questionnaire measures for eating behaviour and impulsivity were investigated with correlation analyses, particularly focusing on trait food and chocolate cravings.

Contrary to hypotheses, olfactory stimulation did not influence AATs towards food pictures in normal weight and obese participants. Further, no differences in AATs were found in different BMI groups. Rather unexpectedly, negative correlations were found between AATs and trait food cravings; reporting more cravings associated with avoiding food pictures, whereas reporting less cravings associated with approach tendencies – especially among overweight individuals.

The AAT phenomena towards food pictures was not replicated, contradicting prior studies. The current results imply that perceivable olfactory stimulation does not seem to play a part in implicit tendencies. The negative association of AATs and cravings could reflect socially desirable behaviour. Replication studies in multimodal research settings are needed to determine the exact role of olfaction on implicit tendencies.