New study asks why willpower alone fails the weight test

November 3, 2014 by Debra Nowland, Queensland University of Technology
New study asks why willpower alone fails the weight test
QUT researcher Lynette Mackey is investigating the psychology losing weight and if temperament influences food choices rather than willpower.

A new study investigating the psychology behind losing weight suggests temperament may influence food choices rather than willpower.

Lead researcher Lynette Mackey from QUT's Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation (IHBI) said the study was designed to determine if particular personality characteristics could be related to being overweight or obese.

"Food does provide a neurological signal of reward to the brain and those who are have a that is sensitive to reward are more likely to eat tasty, sweet and fatty food simply because it is rewarding," she said.

She said weight management programs encouraged the use of self-responsible behaviour and significant amounts of willpower by participants.

"We know there are people who struggle with their eating behaviour when they experience ," she said.

"What we don't know is which temperament factor is influencing the overeating behaviour the most."

The PhD researcher said the ability to "stop and think" before acting was governed by a temperamental factor known as "effortful control".

"We learn over time to approach things that are rewarding and to avoid things that are punishing purely in response to how we feel," she said.

"Another part of temperament is being sensitive to punishment.

"To a person who is high in reward, the fear of missing out, the sting of frustration or the boredom inherent in doing something that is unstimulating creates potentially discomforting and punishing unrewarded states.

"My observation as a clinician suggests many clients failed their attempts when they were busy, distracted, bored or discomforted or distressed in some way."

She said a key question in the research was to determine to what extent the temperament type that was sensitive to punishment influenced the temperament type that was also sensitive to reward and if that influenced overeating behaviour.

"It makes intuitive sense that if someone is sensitive to the discomforting emotions that arise from temperament, then food, which is inherently rewarding may be used to improve mood," Ms Mackey said.

She said initial results will be due next month.

The study participants involved nearly 200 non-smoking men and women aged between 18 - 65 with a of 25 or greater who do not suffer from an eating disorder.

To work out your BMI divide your current weight by your height (in metres squared).

Explore further: Birth season affects your mood in later life

Related Stories

Birth season affects your mood in later life

October 19, 2014
New research shows that the season you are born has a significant impact on your risk of developing mood disorders. People born at certain times of year may have a greater chance of developing certain types of affective temperaments, ...

Eating breakfast increases brain chemical involved in regulating food intake and cravings

October 15, 2014
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many teens skip breakfast, which increases their likelihood of overeating and eventual weight gain. Statistics show that the number of adolescents struggling ...

Eating habits, body fat related to differences in brain chemistry

September 9, 2014
People who are obese may be more susceptible to environmental food cues than their lean counterparts due to differences in brain chemistry that make eating more habitual and less rewarding, according to a National Institutes ...

Can you train your brain to crave healthy foods?

September 19, 2014
The mere sight of a slice of gooey chocolate cake, a cheesy pizza, or a sizzling burger can drive us to eat these foods. In terms of evolution we show preference for high calorie foods as they are an important source of energy. ...

Brain response to appetizing food cues varies among obese people

July 30, 2014
People who have the most common genetic mutation linked to obesity respond differently to pictures of appetizing foods than overweight or obese people who do not have the genetic mutation, according to a new study published ...

Are emotions and eating a marketer's dream?

August 19, 2014
Both research and popular media tell us that emotions and eating are intrinsically related. How many times have we seen a character in a TV show reaching for the ice-cream tub when feeling particularly down or after a breakup?

Recommended for you

Early puberty linked with increased risk of obesity for women

March 15, 2018
Girls who start puberty earlier are more likely to be overweight as adults, finds new research from Imperial College London.

New link between gut bacteria and obesity

February 26, 2018
Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have discovered a new link between gut bacteria and obesity. They found that certain amino acids in the blood are connected to obesity and the composition of the gut microbiome.

Instead of nagging your spouse to lose weight, try going on a diet yourself

February 22, 2018
Tired of nagging your spouse to lose a few pounds? You might get better results by going on a diet yourself.

PFASs, chemicals commonly found in environment, may interfere with body weight regulation

February 13, 2018
A class of chemicals used in many industrial and consumer products was linked with greater weight gain after dieting, particularly among women, according to a study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The chemicals—perfluoroalkyl ...

Study shows benefits of exercise can outweigh health effects of severe obesity

February 12, 2018
Can you be fit and healthy even if you're overweight? That's the question researchers at York University's Faculty of Health set out to answer in a new study that shows physical activity may be equally and perhaps even more ...

Obesity drives US health care costs up by 29 percent, varies by state

February 7, 2018
The prevalence of obesity has risen dramatically in the U.S., but there has been little information about the economic impact of this trend for individual states.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.