Why Being ‘Stressed’ Is ‘Desserts’ in Reverse—The Effect of Acute Psychosocial Stress on Food Pleasure and Food Choice

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The link between acute stress, food pleasure and eating behavior in humans by employing measures of individual reward mechanisms has not been investigated as of yet. Having these insights is key to understanding why many people experience a change in eating behavior when experiencing stress. Thirty-five Danes (mean age 21.71 years) underwent a stress-inducing and relaxation-inducing task based on a randomized cross-over study design. Both tasks were combined with the Leeds Food Preference Questionnaire, to investigate the effect of stress on specific measures of food reward. Furthermore, participants chose a snack, as a covert measure of actual food choice. The study found no effect on explicit liking, explicit wanting or relative preference. For implicit wanting, an effect was detected on high-fat sweet foods, with increasing scores for the stress-induced condition. Moreover, 54% chose a different snack following the stress-inducing condition. Interestingly, 14% chose to change their snack choice to no snack at all. Results suggest acute psychosocial stress can increase cravings for highly palatable foods for some, while for others an experience of loss of appetite prevails. Overall, this study points to a further understanding of why consumers have issues with making healthy food choices, ultimately affecting public health too.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1756
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2022


  • Leeds Food Preference Questionnaire
  • food pleasure
  • food reward
  • liking
  • stress
  • wanting


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