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Sunday, 11 October 2020

Your Brain Remembers Where You Left Junk Food Easier Than Healthy Snacks, Study Hints


When humans are on the prowl for something to eat, something in our brains appears to drive us towards food. this can be what some scientists call 'optimal foraging theory', and it suggests our spatial memory, or our 'cognitive maps', have evolved to prioritise the foremost calorically rewarding snacks.

For our hunter-gatherer ancestors, who never knew when their next meal would come, these mental 'drop pins' would likely have are available handy. For the trendy person exploring through their kitchen, new research suggests it can sometimes be a curse.

A test of spatial memory among 512 participants has now provided first-hand evidence that human spatial processing is implicitly biased toward high-calorie foods.

When put through a maze of food items, participants were more likely to recollect the locations of chocolate brownies and potato chips than healthy foods like apples and tomatoes.

In nature, animals typically forage for high-energy foods first, but whether humans have this same impulse, and whether this involves the next level of cognitive processing as against a reflex remains up for debate.

In past studies, participants quickly categorised and memorised high-calorie and low-calorie food pictures, and brain imaging reveals high-calorie foods reliably engage reward-processing areas. 

In 2013, a little study among women found spatial memory was enhanced for pictures of high-calorie snacks, compared to pictures of fruits and vegetables. This bias also predicted the BMI of participants, leading the authors to suggest our spatial memories, which evolved way back, could be contributing to unhealthy eating and weight gain today. 

The new research adds to the present idea, and provides evidence of a cognitive system "optimized for energy-efficient foraging."

In a maze-like room, the study participants followed a specified route, sniffing and taste-testing 16 foods, both sweet and savoury, and high- and low-calorie. 

For half the samples, the volunteers could only smell the food, while for the opposite half they may actually taste it, moreover as smell it. Importantly, nobody was told they were visiting be tested on their spatial memory later.

When they were, however, their recall for food was roughly 27 to twenty-eight per cent better than healthy food, and this was true even after researchers controlled for other potentially overriding decisions sort of a person's familiarity with food, the taste of the food, and they're explicit desire to consume it. The protein and fat ratios of those foods were also balanced to prevent people making any nutritional decisions. 

Even when only smell was available, participants were remarkably good at implicitly 'knowing' the caloric content of the sample; of course, they were a mathematical notation more accurate in mapping the placement of the high-calorie foods than within the taste tests.

Smell and memory are thought to be closely tied together within the brain, but a human's sense of smell is usually seen as inferior to other foraging mammals.

"However, our observations showcase the intact ability of people to differentiate different odour types, deduce caloric properties of signalled foods from odour cues, and localize odour objects in space," the authors write.

"Indeed, a well-developed olfactory sense is assumed to own conferred a survival advantage to (ancestral) hunter-gatherers."

Our memories may fine are shaped by our need for food in a very time of unpredictable hunting and foraging, but it's still too early to mention how these cognitive processes influence our behaviour and food choices today.

More research is required, because, without delay, there is a paucity of literature on high-calorie spatial memory and its behavioural effects in an exceedingly modern-day setting.

A small study by a number of identical researchers, as an example, found a spatial memory bias for high-calorie foods, but their findings didn't show any clear effects on actual eating behaviour.

Still, if this optimal foraging theory proves to be true in humans, it'd help explain why it is so hard to create healthy dietary decisions in a very contemporary world.

"An enhanced memory for high-calorie food locations could make high-calorie options relatively easier to get within a various food environment, especially for those with a greater expression of the bias," the authors write.

"In this way, the cognitive bias may facilitate high-calorie food choice, by capitalizing on the tendency of people to prefer convenient easily-accessible items when making food decisions."

Thanks, plenty, brain.


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