The appeal of virtual chocolate: A systematic comparison of psychological and physiological food cue responses to virtual and real food

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

Abstract

Virtual Reality (VR) is considered a promising tool for measurement of food choices (e.g., virtual supermarkets) and for interventions regarding eating behavior (e.g., cue exposure therapy). However, it is not yet known whether food cue responses (FCRs) are similar in VR as in real life, which creates uncertainty about the effectiveness of these interventions. Furthermore, the role of hunger in relation to FCRs is still unclear, both in real life and in VR. Therefore, this study explores to what extent exposure to food cues in VR and real life elicit similar psychological (i.e., craving) and physiological (i.e., salivation) FCRs, and whether this differs between hungry and satiated conditions.

The study employed a 2 (stimulus type: food vs. non-food) × 2 (exposure mode: VR vs. real life) × 2 (hunger state: hungry vs. satiated) within-subjects design (N = 54). Exposure to food led to stronger cravings than exposure to non-food, both in VR and real life, albeit weaker in VR. Furthermore, exposure to food led to more salivation than exposure to non-food, however in real life only.

In sum, craving (but not salivation) responses after exposure to virtual food (vs. non-food) approach real life responses. Craving is an important measure in several fields of therapy, and this study suggests that VR is a potentially useful intervention tool. Additionally, this study provides evidence that VR can be used as a tool when it comes to measuring food-related behavior, as virtual food approximates psychological FCRs in real life.
Original languageEnglish
JournalFood Quality and Preference
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Jan 2021

Keywords

  • Virtual Reality
  • Food cue exposure
  • Psychological food cue responses
  • Physiological food cue responses
  • Craving
  • Salivation

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