Psychology AQA A2 Detailed Eating Disorder Notes

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A factor that has been shown to influence eating behaviour is mood. A great deal of research has
focused on the relationship between our mood and subsequent food choices. It is generally accepted
that food can be comforting when we are feeling down and that we associate certain foods with
pleasurable feelings. Research has shown repeatedly that people who are stressed or of low mood
do "comfort eat" by increasing their carbohydrate and sugar intake. Further research has suggested a
link between happy mood and more nutritious foods (e.g. fruit and vegetables as opposed to sugary
of fatty foods). All of this suggests mood is a factor that has a strong influence on our eating
WANSINK ET AL (2008) found that when 38 participants were offered either hot buttered popcorn
or grapes as they watched either an upbeat comedy or a sad film, the participants watching the sad
film consumed 36% more popcorn whilst those watching the comedy consumed more grapes. It was
concluded that people who are in a sad mood want to jolt themselves out of their gloom by eating a
quick, indulgent, nice-tasting snack, while those in a happy mood try to extend their mood in the
long-term by eating food with more nutritional value. This supports the idea that mood plays a key
role in influencing eating behaviour.
However, one criticism of this research is that the films may not have had the same effect on all
participants. Although WANSINK ET AL did ask participants to report their mood after each film and
found that overall there was a significant effect on participants' moods; this effect may have not
been the same for every individual. For example, some participants may not have found the happy
film particularly happy or the sad film particularly sad. This is a problem as the research may not be
measuring what it intends to measure if mood was not always successfully manipulated and this may
therefore reduce the internal validity of the research.
Biological evidence to support low mood increasing "comfort eating": Research into the biology of
comfort eating has produced the `Serotonin Hypothesis'. This is based on the finding that
carbohydrates such as chocolate contain the amino acid Tryptophan. This is used by the brain to
produce serotonin. Low levels of serotonin have been linked with depression and this hypothesis
suggests that people who are experiencing low mood take in more carbohydrate in order to raise
the serotonin levels in the brain and thus, improve their mood (GIBSON, 2006)
However, the increase in Serotonin only occurs when we take in pure carbohydrates, which is
extremely rare. The presence of even a small amount of protein, as in chocolate, prevents the
tryptophan entering the brain, which means the serotonin levels will not change. This means that the
serotonin hypothesis could be invalid.
Research has identified an alternative to serotonin as a biological explanation of comfort eating.
Evidence suggests sweet foods (such as chocolate) increase the release of endorphins in the brain
(which provide a feeling of pleasure). Furthermore, blocking the endorphin system with the drug
naxalone reduces food intake, especially sweet foods, and suppresses thoughts about food. This
suggests eating sweet carbohydrates can make us feel better as it activates our natural reward
pathways. This may explain reasons for the suggested comfort eating in those with low moods
The biochemical theory of the effect of chocolate on mood is challenged because the amount of
these chemicals in chocolate is low; other foods have higher levels and are not associated with
improved mood.
However, one strength of all research into low mood and comfort eating is that it has a number of
practical applications. This is because biological and psychological theories all agree comfort eating
can positively affect a negative mood and these ideas have been used by the police to address
anti-social behaviour in certain areas by giving out chocolate to potential offenders.

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Usefulness of the findings. The greater understanding the findings on the link between
neurotransmitters, mood, and eating behaviour offer into mood disorders such as depression means
the findings are of great value.
The findings are mixed regarding gender differences. For example BELLISLE ET AL found no
difference in amount and type of food eaten by men when highly stressed.
Culture and sub cultural groups have different eating practices and food preferences, which are
transmitted to others via reinforcement and social learning, especially for children.…read more

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The Restraint theory was developed as an attempt to explain both the causes and consequences
associated with the cognitive restriction of food intake. HERMAN AND MACK suggest that
attempting not to eat actually increases the probability of overeacting. WARDLE AND BEALES
(1988) support the restraint theory in a study that put twenty seven obese women into three
groups; diet, exercise, non-treatment.…read more

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Research has generally demonstrated that attempting to suppress or deny a thought usually has
the opposite effect, making it more prominent in your mind than before. WEGNER (1994) refers
to this phenomenon as the Theory of Ironic processes of mental control because it represents a
paradoxical effect of thought control, i.e. denial often backfires.
This kind of thought suppression is central to most dieting, as dieters attempt to suppress
thoughts about hunger and places restrictions on certain foods which are known as "forbidden"
foods.…read more

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THOMAS AND STERN (1995) reported that strategies to improve social networks have focused
on teaching spouses or significant others to provide social support during the weight loss process
and modest success rates have been achieved. Strategies of drawing up contracts in which
groups aim for individual or group weight loss targets have also been successful.…read more

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For example, when food is being digested the level of the hormone CCK in the
bloodstream is high. This stimulates receptors in the VMN. Experimental electrical stimulation of
the VMN has shown to reduce food intake. BAYLIS ET AL (1996) demonstrated that malfunctions
in the VMN may cause obesity. The study consisted of two symmetrical lesions which were made
in VMN of eight male and five female rats. Their body weight was later compared with
age-matched controls.…read more

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They can also override the drive to
stop eating
because of social cues to continue eating or the availability of more food
The role of cognition is ignored. The neurons with cell bodies in the LH or VMH could be affected
by sensory input relayed from other areas, in particular the frontal cortex. This is supported by
the fact that we all have food preferences, and so cognition also plays a part in eating and
stopping eating; these behaviours are not just automatic stimulus­response drives.…read more

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Babies' innate preference for sweet foods can also be explained in evolutionary terms. The
preference for sweet flavours would encourage babies to eat fruit with natural fructose. As this
is high in calories, it would provide the baby with the much needed energy. Evidence for this
preference comes from DESOR ET AL (1973), who using facial expressions and sucking behaviour
as an index of preference, found that babies prefer sweet tasting substances.
Furthermore, people tend to enjoy consuming salty flavours.…read more

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means that we cannot be sure that evolution was the cause of human's current preferences
because although there is evidence from fossils showing that humans would have had a
particularly meaty diet, scientific research is limited as our ancestors have now died out.
However, a common way of testing an evolutionary hypothesis is through comparison with a
different species e.g. chimpanzees who face similar adaptive problems today.…read more

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­ this adaptation must be turned off so that individuals can increase
their chances of survival by migrating to more favourable environment.
Therefore, the `switch' that increases desire for food and energy conservation must be switched
off so that migration can occur. Therefore, the anorexic is able to switch off the desire for food
signals explaining how they are able to lose so much weight.…read more


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