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Studies examining stress-eating tend to conclude that stress leads to increased food consumption simply as a result of an increased appetite. However, more recent studies have questioned this mechanism, suggesting that this increase in eating is caused not by an increased appetite, but by a decreased ability to taste. Notably, past studies tend to induce stress on participants through either psychological stress alone, or through a combination of both psychological and physiological stress. Few, if any studies have evaluated the effect of physiological stress alone on eating behavior. For this reason, the present study examines the relationship between physiological stress and eating behavior. Eating behavior was operationalized as participants’ self-report measures of fat intensity, at what intensity of sugar and salt they were first able to detect a taste, and how long, in seconds it took them to detect those tastes. These data were gathered from participants after undergoing both a physiologically-stressful and a relaxed control condition. The results point to a trend in which, after having undergone physiological stress, participants’ ability to taste fat increased, they required a higher concentration of sugar and salt in order to detect it, less time was required to detect sugar, and more time was required to taste salt. These findings from participants undergoing physiological stress have key similarities and differences from those undergoing psychological stress, with implications regarding the evolutionary adaptiveness of certain eating behaviors in psychologically versus physiologically stressful situations.
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Zimmerman, Ellie Julieann, "Do You Have What It Tastes? The Effects of Physiological Stress on Human Taste Thresholds" (2020). Senior Projects Spring 2020. 150.
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