Junk Food Twice As Distracting As Healthy Food, Study Says

CBS Local — Do you stop what you’re doing to drool over a tantalizing picture of cakes, candies, or other sweet treats? Researchers at Johns Hopkins University say that you’re not alone because those delicious images have twice the distracting power of healthier foods.

“We wanted to see if pictures of food—particularly high-fat, high-calorie food—would be a distraction for people engaged in a complicated task,” the study’s co-author Howard Egeth said on the university’s news site, the Hub. The Psychological and Brain Sciences professor said images of “chocolate cake and hot dogs” stopped workers in their tracks twice as fast as a picture of an apple or carrot could.

Researchers studied the reactions of people who were given a complicated computer task which didn’t involve food. During the assignment, random pictures of non-food objects, healthy food, and junk food were quickly flashed near the worker’s screen. The results showed that healthy options and random objects only had a minor effect on the person’s attention; distracting subjects for around 15 of the 125 milliseconds the picture was visible. Junk food captivated people for nearly 30 milliseconds.

The scientists also found that “wanting” something sweet produced a much different result as “having” something sweet. After another group of test subjects  were given a candy bar to eat before their task, images of more delicious treats failed to distract the workers with the same power it did before. “What your grandmother might have told you about not going to the grocery store hungry seems to be true,” lead author Corbin A. Cunningham told the Hub.

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