Food captures attention, but not the eyes: an eye-tracking study on mindset and BMI’s impact on attentional capture by high-caloric visual food stimuli

Leonardo Pimpini, Sarah Kochs, Wieske van Zoest, Anita Jansen, Anne Roefs

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Obesity is a worldwide pandemic and theories propose that attentional bias (AB) for food triggers craving and overeating, especially for people with obesity. However, empirical evidence is inconsistent, which may be due to methodological diversity and the double-sided nature of high-caloric palatable foods. That is, these foods simultaneously have a high hedonic and a low health value. So, depending on context and/or emotional state, people’s mindset while viewing foods may alternate between hedonic (taste) and health (calories) values, possibly affecting AB for food in opposite directions. This study tests how mindset and BMI (Body Mass Index) influences AB and food intake. We expect greater AB for food and more food intake in the hedonic compared to the health mindset, especially for people with obesity. Mindsets were induced using short video-clips in two sessions in counterbalanced order. Participants (35 with a healthy-weight-category BMI, 31 with obesity) performed a modified Additional Singleton paradigm where they searched for a neutral target among neutral fillers. On 90% of the trials, either a food or a neutral distractor appeared. Response latencies to the target and eye-movements to the distractor were recorded. Dependent variables included: response latencies, and eye-movement variables on the distractor: fixations (%), 1st fixation duration, dwell-time. Food intake was assessed in a bogus taste test. No significant effects emerged from the eye-movements analysis, whereas the analysis of response latencies showed an AB for food, not significantly moderated by BMI or mindset. Food intake was affected by mindset partly as expected, as participants ate more in the hedonic than in the health mindset when the hedonic mindset was induced in the second session. One AB measure (fixations) correlated positively with food intake. Finally, food captured attention – but not the eyes – and mindset affects food intake partly as expected.
Original languageEnglish
Article number210
JournalJournal of Cognition
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 21 Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was financed by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), VIDI-grant (452-16-007) awarded to Prof. Dr. Anne Roefs.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Ubiquity Press. All right reserved.


  • Attentional bias
  • Bogus taste test
  • Eye-tracking
  • Food intake
  • Mindset
  • Obesity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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