Use your imagination to curb temptation

Researchers from the University of Aberdeen have discovered a novel strategy to potentially help us eat fewer calories.

The study encouraged volunteers to use mental imagery and adopt specific visual perspectives within their imagination to attempt to influence the number of sweets that would then be consumed.

Results showed that people who had been instructed to imagine ‘seeing themselves eating sweets’ from a third-person vantage point, ate fewer sweets than those who imagined themselves eating sweets from a first-person perspective.

In the study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, researchers asked people to imagine eating sweets from different vantage points - first-person, or third-person.  In the first-person condition, people were asked to imagine eating ‘through their own eyes.’ In the third-person condition, people were asked adopt an external perspective, like they are ‘watching themselves eat’.  The number of sweets each individual ate was then measured under the guise of a ‘taste test.’

Results showed that people ate fewer sweets after they had imagined the third –person perspective, so, watching themselves eating them in their mind’s eye, than first-person perspective, or seeing it through their own eyes.

Dr Brittany Christian, conducted the research at the School of Psychology at the University of Aberdeen, along with Professor Neil Macrae and Dr Lynden Miles said: “I tend to find myself thinking about food quite often. Despite my very best intentions, these thoughts seem to spur unwanted actions – over- indulgence in the very foods I KNOW are best consumed in moderation.

 “We wanted to understand what it was about these thoughts that made food so irresistible and to see if we could alter mental imagery in a way that might help individuals reduce unwanted caloric consumption.

 “According to our research, at least one reason why third-person imagery has these positive benefits is because it strips mental images of the key sensory ingredients (smell & taste) that make food so hard to resist.

“In short, our work demonstrates the potential for third-person imagery to help you eat fewer calories and spend less money on foods that tempt you. 

“With obesity on the rise in nations all over the world, proactive and preventative approaches are incredibly important. We use our imaginations to help us think about the future and to plan our behaviour in many ways. The good news is, you're in control of what those mental images look like and changing them doesn't cost you a thing. “