November 2011 Archives

Mind over Chocolate

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Fighting that craving to overindulge in sweets this holiday season? Next time you pick up that piece of chocolate, don't let it melt in your mouth, but in your mind. Sound weird and unsatisfying? Read on...

In a article published by National Geographic, according to new research, imagining eating a specific food reduces your interest in that food, so you end up eating less of it. They make it sound so easy! Well the reaction to repeated food exposure is called habituation and its known to occur while eating. But the aim of a recent study was to show that habituation can occur solely via that power of the mind. People who diet try to avoid thinking about stimuli they crave. This research suggests that may not be the best strategy. If you think about the food itself, it increases your appetite. This research suggests that by forcing yourself to repeatedly think about tasting, swallowing, and chewing the food you crave, it will help reduce your cravings.

Carey Morewedge and colleagues from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, conducted five experiments which revealed that people who repeatedly imagined eating chocolate or cheese would eat less of that food than people who pictured eating the food fewer times, eating a different food, or not eating at all. In one experiment 51 subjects were split into 3 groups. One group was asked to imagine inserting 30 quarters into a laundry machine--which requires the same motor skills as eating M&M's, the study says--and then eating three M&M's. Another group imagined inserting three quarters into a laundry machine and then eating 30 M&M's. The control group imagined inserting 33 quarters into a laundry machine without eating any M&M's. Afterwards, participants were allowed to eat freely from bowls which contained 1.5oz of M&M's each. After the subjects were done eating the M&M's the bowls were taken away and weighed.

Results showed that the group who imagined eating 30 M&M's each ate fewer chocolates than the control group and the group who imagined eating 3 M&M's.
This study is important because it looks at the triggers which explain why we overeat. Digestive cues are only a small part of what tells us when we're finished with a meal Research also suggests that psychological factors, such as habituation or the size of a plate, also influence how much a person eats.These studies are important due to the increasing obesity rate in the U.S. In 2009 nearly 30% of adults were obese. Children's obesity is at an all time high and increasing rapidly. Obesity increases chances of Type II Diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and other fatal conditions. This study may lead to new behavioral techniques for people looking to control their addictions such as overeating and smoking.

Mystery behind the yawn

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No one knows why we yawn. There are many theories to why we do, such as signaling tiredness, getting oxygen to the brain, reducing CO2 levels, or clearing out stale air from the lungs. These are all false. However, we all know how infectious yawns can be. No matter how much we resist, if we see someone yawn, we do the same. According to, if we see someone yawning, nine out of ten times we yawn within a few seconds. Why we yawn remains a mystery.

However, researchers have found that people with autism spectrum disorder don't have the tendency to yawn when seeing others do it. Crazy, right? The Center for Brain and Cognitive Development at Birkbeck, University of London have shown that children with some degree of autism are not susceptible to contagious yawning. Atsushi Senju and colleagues set up a study where 24 children with autism spectrum and 25 non-ASD children were shown videos of people yawning or making some kind of mouth movement. The results showed that both groups yawned the same number of times when they watched the video of general mouth movements, but the non-ASD children yawned more when watching the video of people yawning.

This study is important because it displays that a neuropsychological or psychiatric condition can selectively impair contagious yawning. Autism is a developmental disability that severely affects social interaction and communication including empathy. Yawning is thought to share similar cognitive and neural mechanisms as empathy.This study confirms the 'empathy theory' in that individuals with autism, who show abnormal developments in empathy, also show selective impairment in contagious yawning.
Even though this doesn't help us to understand why we yawn, the empathy scenario provides us with and understanding regarding group behavior. So, why do we yawn and is it beneficial? Research continues to strive for an answer.

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This page is an archive of entries from November 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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