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Being distracted during a meal can lead to overeating: study

It may be becoming clear why you overindulge in snacking.

Being distracted during a meal can leave you feeling unsatisfied — you might compensate by eating more food later, according to a study published Thursday in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

“Overconsumption often results from a lack of self-control,” said the study’s lead author, Stephen Lee Murphy, of Ghent University in Belgium. “However, our results suggest that overconsumption can also often be driven by the simple human desire to achieve a certain level of pleasure through an activity. When distraction gets in the way, we are likely to try to compensate by consuming more.


In one trial, participants who ate while distracted reported less pleasure and satisfaction, an increased desire for additional gratification, and increased snacking afterward.
In one trial, participants who ate while distracted reported less pleasure and satisfaction, an increased desire for additional gratification, and increased snacking afterward. Vadym – stock.adobe.com

Murphy’s team first focused on food overconsumption. 122 people (mostly young women aged 18 to 24) were asked how much they expected to enjoy a lunch before eating it.

They were then asked to eat under one of three conditions: no distraction, moderate distraction (watching a video), and major distraction (playing Tetris).


Researchers call this phenomenon
Researchers call this phenomenon “hedonic compensation”: compensating for the loss of pleasure by seeking additional gratification elsewhere. WESTOCK – stock.adobe.com

After lunch, participants shared how much they ate, how much they enjoyed the meal, how satisfied they felt, and whether they wanted more gratification. They also recorded their snack later in the day.

Participants who ate while distracted reported less pleasure and satisfaction, an increased desire for additional gratification, and increased snacking afterward.

Researchers call this phenomenon “hedonic compensation”: compensating for the loss of pleasure by seeking additional gratification elsewhere.

Murphy’s team theorized that this effect goes beyond food and can be observed when people are distracted by watching a movie or playing a game. As a result, they may be more likely to engage in additional media consumption, such as checking social media.

Murphy and his colleagues plan to replicate and confirm the existence of the hedonic compensation effect to find ways to combat overconsumption.

“By understanding the main drivers of hedonic overconsumption, we can develop strategies to help prevent its occurrence,” Murphy said.

New York Post

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