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Keywords:

  • visual attention paradigm;
  • restrained eating;
  • attentional bias;
  • cognitive avoidance

Abstract

The present study was designed to examine whether the frequently found prolonged colour naming of food words in Stroop tasks in people who restrain their food intake is due to hyperattention to or avoidance of these food words. MacLeod's visual attention (or dot probe) paradigm (MacLeod et al., 1986) was used, as well as a word recognition task. Food, weight/shape and neutral words were presented. Fifty-nine women, classified as restrained or unrestrained eaters, participated in both tasks. The visual attention task revealed neither attention nor avoidance of food and weight/shape stimuli. In the recognition task, however, restrained subjects were found to need less time for recognizing food words than neutral words. For unrestrained eaters, the response times for food and neutral words were the same. The results in this study, may be explained by Wegner's Ironic Process Theory (Wegner, 1994). Wegner argues that, in order to avoid certain thought contents, an individual needs to attend to those contents. For the restrained eater this might mean that she first shifts attention towards the food words in the dot probe task in order to subsequently avoid them, which might explain the zero net effect. Indirect support for the idea that restrained eaters needed to attend the food words in order to avoid them, is found in the results of the recognition task: restrained subjects needed less time to recognize food stimuli than neutral stimuli. Copyright © 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and Eating Disorders Association.