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Open AccessArticle

Automatic and Controlled Processing: Implications for Eating Behavior

Division of Psychological and Social Medicine and Developmental Neuroscience, Faculty of Medicine, Technische Universität Dresden, 01069 Dresden, Germany
Institute of Cognitive Science, University of Osnabrück, 49074 Osnabrück, Germany
Department of Psychology, Technische Universität Dresden, 01069 Dresden, Germany
Department of Psychology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Helsinki, 00100 Helsinki, Finland
Leipzig University Medical Center, Universität Leipzig, 04109 Leipzig, Germany
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Nutrients 2020, 12(4), 1097;
Received: 10 March 2020 / Revised: 5 April 2020 / Accepted: 12 April 2020 / Published: 15 April 2020
(This article belongs to the Section Nutrition and Public Health)
It is a widely held view that humans have control over their food choices and consumption. However, research also suggests that eating behavior is often triggered by contextual cues and guided by automaticities and habits. Interestingly, the dichotomy between automatic and controlled processing has recently been challenged, suggesting that they may be intertwined. In a large female sample (n = 567), we investigated the hypothesis that task-based and self-reported measures of automatic and controlled processing would interact and impact self-reported eating behavior. Results analyzed via structural equation modeling suggest that automatic, but not controlled processing, during a modified flanker task, including a context-specific proportion congruent (CSPC) manipulation, was inversely associated with self-reported self-control. The influence of self-control on unhealthy eating behavior (i.e., uncontrolled and emotional eating, heightened consumption of fat and sugar) was only indirect via habitual behavior, which itself had a strong direct impact. Unhealthy eating was further associated with real-life outcomes (e.g., body mass index (BMI)). Our findings suggest that eating behavior may indeed be guided primarily by automaticities and habits, whereas self-control might facilitate this association. Having self-control over eating might therefore be most effective by avoiding contextual cues eliciting undesired automatic behavior and establishing habits that serve long-term goals. View Full-Text
Keywords: eating behavior; automaticity; habit; self-control; cognitive control; context-specific proportion congruent eating behavior; automaticity; habit; self-control; cognitive control; context-specific proportion congruent
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Fürtjes, S.; King, J.A.; Goeke, C.; Seidel, M.; Goschke, T.; Horstmann, A.; Ehrlich, S. Automatic and Controlled Processing: Implications for Eating Behavior. Nutrients 2020, 12, 1097.

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