Emotion regulation and dietary decision-making


Obesity is a global health issue, estimated to cause nearly three million annual deaths worldwide. A key risk factor is poor diet, therefore it is important to investigate ways of improving dietary decisions and preferences. Previous studies suggest that experiencing positive emotions can increase people's intake of foods high in calories. This study aims to determine whether the regulation of positive emotions can lead to healthier or unhealthier dietary decisions.

Research Questions / Hypotheses

How does the downregulation (decreasing the intensity) and upregulation (increasing the intensity) of positive emotions affect people's willingness to consume foods? Does this apply to foods in general, or only foods that are considered to be unhealthy?


402 REP participants completed the study in total. 35 participants were excluded for reporting that they had dietary requirements or history of an eating disorder. A further 17 were excluded for showing little desire to consume any foods in the study.


Part 1 was an online demographics survey. In part 2, participants completed a series of trials. In each trial, they were instructed to either let their positive emotions unfold naturally, or regulate their emotional response (either increase or decrease their positive emotions, depending on a randomly allocated condition). They then viewed an image selected to induce positive emotions, followed by a food image, and indicated how much they wanted to consume the food in that moment.


Linear mixed effects model analyses will be run to determine whether willingness to consume foods differed according to trial type (look vs. regulate) and strategy type (upregulation vs. downregulation). This analysis will also look at whether these effects differed according to tastiness and healthiness. It is expected that participants will report greater willingness to consume unhealthy foods when increasing their positive emotional response, and greater willingness to consume healthy foods when decreasing their positive emotional response.


The results of this study may help to further our understanding of interventions to improve dietary decision-making, and lead to potentially better treatments for obesity, reducing people's risk of multiple diseases. The results will be communicated in journal articles, conference presentations, and a PhD thesis.