PSYA3 - eating behaviour

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Discuss attitudes to food and eating behaviour

Explanations include social learning theory and cultural influences.

Social learning theory emphasises the impact that observing other people has on our own attitudes and behaviour towards food. More often than not parents control the foods bought and served at home however, research suggests that there is an association between parents’ and children's attitudes to food in general. Brown and Ogden (2004)reported consistent correlations between parents and their children in terms of snack food intake, eating motivations and body dissatisfaction. This is an example of parental modelling showing that parents influence our eating habits.

Meyer and Gast (2008) demonstrated the importance of social learning theory in attitudes to food. They surveyed 10-12 year old boys and girls finding a significant positive correlation between peer influence and disordered eating, suggesting that the likeability of peers was considered the most important factor in this relationship which leads to the impression that it is not only parents that have influence on our attitudes to food.

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Biren and Fischer provided further support as when studying mothers and daughters they found that the best predictors of the daughters behaviour came from the mothers dietary restraint and the perception of the risks of the daughter becoming overweight.

Another explanation considered in the social learning theory is the effects of the media,MacIntyre et al (1998) found that the media have a major impact on what people eat and their attitudes towards certain foods. However, researchers also state that many eating behaviours are limited by personal circumstances such as age and income suggesting that the media is not solely responsible for the populations food habits but that it is just one factor.

Social learning explanations of eating behaviour focus explicitly on the role of fashion models in influencing the food attitudes of young people. However, attitudes to food are also a product of evolution, they suggest that our preferences for fatty and sweet foods is a direct result of an evolved adaptation from our ancestors. This means that food preferences are much more than just learned behaviours.

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Cultural influences such as ethnicity can also be applied to attitudes to food and eating behaviour. Ball and Kenardy (2002) studied over 14,000 women between the ages of 18-23 in Australia finding that for all ethnic groups the longer the time spent in Australia the more the women reported eating behaviour similar to women in Australia. This is known as the acculturation effect.

Powell and Khan (1995) also conducted a study into the effects of ethnicity in attitudes to food and eating behaviour finding that body dissatisfaction and related eating disorders are more characteristic of white women than black or Asian women.

Research has found a preoccupation with dieting and disordered eating amongst white females but other studies show the opposite. Mumford et al (1991) found that the incidence of bulimia was greater among Asian school girls while Striegel-Moore et al (1995) found more evidence for a drive for thinness among black girls. This goes against previous findings and shows that ethnicity may play a part in eating behaviours/disorders.

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Social class can also be used to understand attitudes to food and eating behaviour. Some studies have also found that body dissatisfaction, dieting and disorders are more common in higher class individuals, Dornbusch et al (1984) surveyed 7000 American adolescents concluding that higher class females had a greater desire to be thin and were much more likely to diet to achieve this. However, Goode et al (2008) used data from the 2003 Scottish health survey establishing that income was generally associated with healthy eating.

A problem with the relationship between social class and eating behaviour is that it isn’t straightforward, Story et al (1995) found in a sample of American students that higher social class was related to greater weight satisfaction and lower rates of weight control behaviours such as vomiting. However, some studies have found no relationship between social class and weight dissatisfaction, a desire for thinness or eating disorders.

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There are issues with research into this topic as most studies concentrate only on women's attitudes to eating behaviour particularly body dissatisfaction and disordered eating. However, studies have shown that in men, homosexuality is a risk factor in the development of disordered eating (Siever, 1994). These findings place great emphasis on the lean muscular body ordeal suggesting that studies that concentrate solely on women have a limited view.

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Discuss two or more explanations for the success a

There are three types of dieting; restricting the total amount of food eaten, refraining from eating certain types of food and avoiding eating for long periods of time. However, more often than not, these diets fail.

Research for the restraint theory suggests that as many as 98% of the female population in the UK consciously restrain their food intake at some point in their lives. Herman and Mack (1975) developed this theory as an attempt to explain the causes and consequences associated with the cognitive restriction of food, suggesting that attempting not to eat actually increases the probability of overeating.

Additionally, the restraint theory has implications for obesity treatment. The theory suggests that restraint leads to excess yet treatment of obesity recommends restraint as a solution to excessive weight gain but failure to diet can result in depression (feeling like a failure and that they are unable to control their weight). However, overeating may be a consequence of obesity if restraint is recommended as treatment.

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The boundary model developed by Herman and Polivy (1984) can also be used to explain the impact of dieting as it tries to explain why dieting may lead to overeating. Hunger keeps the intake of food above a certain minimum level while satiety works to keep intake below a maximum level, yet psychological factors have the greatest impact on consumption between these levels. However, dieters tend to have a larger range between hunger and satiety as it takes longer to feel hungry and more food to satisfy them as they have developed a self imposed desired intake. Once they have gone over the boundary they eat until they reach satiety.


Support for this can be found from Wardle and Beales (1988) who claim that dietary restraint leads to overeating. They randomly assigned 27 obese women to either a diet, exercise or non-treatment group for 7 weeks. Results showed that when assessed women in the diet condition ate more than women in the exercise and non-treatment groups, supporting the claim that dietary restraint leads to overeating.

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The role of denial and ironic process can also be involved in the success and failure of dieting. Research in cognitive psychology shows that attempting to suppress or deny a thought often has the opposite effect making the thought more prominent. The decision to not eat certain foods or eat less of them results in a similar state of denial as dieters try to suppress thoughts about food deemed forbidden as part of their diet, while according to the role of ironic processes attempts to suppress thoughts of food such as pizza and chocolate increases the dieters preoccupations with the foods they’re trying to deny themselves.

This theory is supported by Soetens et al (2006) who provided experimental support. P’s were divided into restrained and unrestrained eaters, the restrained group was then further divided into those with high or low disinhibition. The disinhibited restrained group who tried to eat less but who would often overeat used more thought suppression than other groups and showed a rebound effect which shows that restrained eaters who tend to overeat try to suppress thoughts about food more often but when they do, they think more about the food afterwards.

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It has been found that there is a cultural bias in obesity research. Research in this area is culturally biased as cultural groups find it harder to diet successfully due to a natural inclination to obesity. Park et al (2001) found that Asian adults are more prone to obesity than Europeans while Misra et al (2007) claims that Asian children and adolescents have a greater central fat mass when compared with Europeans and other ethnic groups suggesting that results from research cannot be generalised as it would result in an imposed etic.

There is also an argument as to whether the success or failure of dieting can be determined by factors other than an individual’s choice of lifestyle. A gene coding for lipoprotein lipase (LPL) is produced by fat cells to help store calories as fat, if too much LPL is produced the body will become overly efficient at storing calories. Kern et al (1990) studied nine people who lost on average 90 pounds, measuring LPL levels before dieting and three months later. It was found that LPL levels rose after weight loss and that the more weight lost the higher the levels of LPL while the body tried to regain the weight lost. This suggests that it is easier for a dieter to regain lost weight than someone who has never been obese to put weight on.

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Discuss two or more ways in which eating behaviour

The role of neural mechanisms includes; homeostasis, the process by which the body maintains a constant internal environment maintained by a negative feedback loop which regulates hunger based on fat stores and blood glucose levels, as well as the dual centre theory and the amygdala.

However, there are limitations to the homeostatic explanation. For a hunger mechanism to be adaptive it must anticipate and prevent energy deficits, meaning the theory that hunger and eating are only triggered when energy resources are below a desired level, is incompatible. Adaptive mechanisms must promote levels of consumption maintaining bodily resources above the optimum level acting as a buffer for a future lack of food.

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The dual centre theory of feeding behaviour involves two areas of the hypothalamus; the lateral and the ventromedial. The lateral hypothalamus contains the feeding centre, which initiates eating in response to decreased blood glucose and increased ghrelin (a hormone released by the stomach when empty) while the ventromedial hypothalamus contains the satiety centre, which inhibits eating behaviour when we’re full. This is in response to increased blood glucose and decreased ghrelin as well as changes to CCK (a hormone released in the duodenum when food is digested). Once satiated leptin is released by fat cells acting as a long term satiety signal.

However, there are problems with the lateral hypothalamus as damage can cause deficits in other aspects of behaviour such as thirst and sex rather than just hunger. Recent research has shown that eating behaviour is controlled by neural circuits, not just the hypothalamus. Sakurai et al (1998) suggested that even though the lateral hypothalamus plays an important role in controlling eating behaviour it’s not necessarily the brains eating centre.

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There are also problems with the ventromedial hypothalamus. Zhang et al (1994) conducted research into the role of leptin, finding that mice may have two copies of the obese gene rendering the genes for leptin defective, leading to overeating. Leptin is usually made in fat tissue and released into the blood causing fat and appetite loss, but this doesn’t happen in ob/ob mice. However, injecting them with leptin can cause dramatic weight loss, which suggests that there are possible treatments that can be developed to treat human obese patients with a predisposition for obesity.

There are also doubts as to whether the normal functioning of neuropeptide Y (a neurotransmitter found in the hypothalamus) is to influence eating behaviour. Marie et al (2005) genetically manipulated mice so they didn’t make any neuropeptide Y, finding no subsequent decrease in feeding behaviour. However, researchers have suggested hunger stimulated by injections of neuropeptide Y may have just be an experimental effect of causing different behaviour to that caused by normal amounts of neuropeptide Y.

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Discuss 2 or more evolutionary explanations of foo

Our ancestors lived in an environment of evolutionary adaptation (EEA) and in this period of time natural selection favored adaptations geared towards survival.

Taste and smell are thought to be key senses in food as there are 5 different types of taste buds on the tongue that are specialised to taste the 5 key qualities :sweet, sour, salt, bitter and umami (savory).

Desor et al went on to investigate the food preferences of food based on facial expressions and sucking behaviour. He found that babies have an innate preference of sweet tasting foods and rejected bitter tasting substances.

Nesse and Williams conducted some research and found that in some vegetables such as broccoli and brussel sprouts contain chemicals that can be toxic to the younge.

The diets of early humans consisted of things such as animals in their environment and the preference for fatty food is likely to be an adaptation because conditions in the EEA meant that energy resources was vital in order to stay alive and find the next meal. The food that humans today eat is normally rich in calories but not particularly nutritious. However, in the EEA calories were not as common and easily found, so it makes sense that humans have evolved a preference for calorie-rich foods.

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There has been research conducted into the importance of calories in early diets. Gibson and Wardle (2001) found that the best way to predict which fruit and vegetables that 4-5 year olds would prefer was not in terms of how sweet they were, but how dense they were in calories. Bananas and potatoes are particularly calorie-rich and were likely to be chosen. Demonstrating an evolved preference for calorie-rich foods.

Our human ancestors began to include meat in their diet to compensate for the decline in numbers of plants that are used for food caused by receding forests. Fossils found that are thought to be hunter-gatherers suggests that their daily diet was primarily from animals including organs from the animal such as liver due to the fact that they have a rich source of energy. This idea is supported by Milton who suggested that it was unlikely that the diet of early humans could have provided enough nutrition from a vegetarian diet to evolve into the humans that we are today.

There has been arguments that early humans may have been vegetarian. Cardin et al argued most of early humans calories came from sources other than saturated fats, leading to a suggestion that they were healthy eaters and may have been vegetarian. There has been contradicting anthropological evidence however showing that all societies display a preference for animal foods and fats.

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Taste aversion is also know as bait shyness and was studied by Garcia et al in the lab. He made rats ill by radiation shortly after eating saccharin (sugary foods) and the rats went on to develop an aversion to it rather quickly as they associated illness with saccharin.

Food avoidance may occur during treatment of illnesses such as cancer as some cancer treatments such as chemotherapy can cause gastrointestinal illness which, when paired with food can cause taste aversion. Bernstein and Webster gave patients a novel-tasting ice cream prior to chemo which led the patients to acquire an aversion to that ice cream. These results have led to the development of the scapegoat technique, which is consistent with an adaptive avoidance of novel foods also known as neophobia.

There is evidence from other primates which show the importance of fatty food. Craig Stanford observed chimpanzees and showed that these animals face the same problems today that ancestors in the EEA faced. When close to starvation when they managed to kill they ate the fatty parts first. This shows that fat is vital for survival and may suggest why we have preference for fatty foods.

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There is a methodological problem with a lot of the research conducted into the evolutionary explanation of food preferences. This is because a lot of the research was lab based of controlled observations suggesting that although the experiments are controlled they may lack ecological validity.

Also, some of the research conducted is based on questionnaires and food diaries and although it might be an insight into participants real life but may be inaccurate as participants may lie and recording what they eat may actually change their eating behaviour.

However, in naturalistic observations there is the risk of the Hawthorne effect and there is a difference between public and private eating.

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There is a methodological problem with a lot of the research conducted into the evolutionary explanation of food preferences. This is because a lot of the research was lab based of controlled observations suggesting that although the experiments are controlled they may lack ecological validity.

Also, some of the research conducted is based on questionnaires and food diaries and although it might be an insight into participants real life but may be inaccurate as participants may lie and recording what they eat may actually change their eating behaviour.

However, in naturalistic observations there is the risk of the Hawthorne effect and there is a difference between public and private eating.

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Discuss two or more psychological explanations of

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterised by extreme body dissatisfaction and dieting which also meets the 4 criteria set by the DSM VII; anxiety, weight, body image distortion and amenorrhoea.

One explanation, cultural ideals, focuses on the Western standards of attractiveness claiming that they are a contributory factor in the development of anorexia nervosa. However, media influences are a more major source of influence of body image attitudes. The portrayal of thin models on TV and in magazines contributes significantly to body image concerns and a drive for thinness, but the media doesn’t always affect everyone in the same way. For example, individuals with low self esteem are more likely to compare themselves to the idealised images portrayed.

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The role of the media in shaping perceptions of body image is supported by evidence from Becker et al (2002) who studied the eating attitudes and behaviours of Fijian girls following the introduction of TV. It was found that the girls stated a desire to lose weight so as to become more like Western TV characters. However, other research shows that instructional intervention prior to media exposure idealises female images preventing any adverse effects from exposure.

A further explanation of the development of anorexia nervosa is peer influences. Peer acceptance is important during adolescence so there may be a susceptibility to peer influence on patterns of disordered eating. Eisenberg et al (2005) found that dieting among friends in the US was significantly related to unhealthy weight control behaviours such as taking diet pills, emphasising the impact of peer influence in the development of disordered eating.

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However, research doesn’t always show a significant relationship between peer influence and the development of anorexia. Shroff and Thompson (2002) found no correlation among friends on measures of disordered eating in an adolescent sample, yet Jones and Crawford (2006) found that overweight girls and underweight boys are most likely to be teased by peers suggesting that teasing is a specific mechanism of peer influence, serving to enforce gender biased ideals, suggesting that there are multiple factors of peer influence but not all are involved in the development of anorexia nervosa.

Perfectionism can also be used to explain anorexia nervosa as it is often found in individuals with anorexia or other eating disorders. Strober et al (2006) retrospectively evaluated the personality traits of teenage boys and girls receiving treatment for anorexia nervosa, finding high levels of perfectionism in 75% of the girls and 50% of the boys.

 

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However, research doesn’t always show a significant relationship between peer influence and the development of anorexia. Shroff and Thompson (2002) found no correlation among friends on measures of disordered eating in an adolescent sample, yet Jones and Crawford (2006) found that overweight girls and underweight boys are most likely to be teased by peers suggesting that teasing is a specific mechanism of peer influence, serving to enforce gender biased ideals, suggesting that there are multiple factors of peer influence but not all are involved in the development of anorexia nervosa.

Perfectionism can also be used to explain anorexia nervosa as it is often found in individuals with anorexia or other eating disorders. Strober et al (2006) retrospectively evaluated the personality traits of teenage boys and girls receiving treatment for anorexia nervosa, finding high levels of perfectionism in 75% of the girls and 50% of the boys.

 

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Halmi et al (2000) highlights the importance of perfectionism as a risk factor for anorexia nervosa through a study investigating the relationship between perfectionism and anorexia in 322 women with a history of anorexia across Europe and the US. It was found that individuals scored highly on the multidimensional perfectionism scale compared to a comparison group of healthy women. However, as the study is correlational it doesn’t show cause and effect.

There are also methodological problems with the study of personality and its involvement in anorexia nervosa. Problems include separating lasting personality traits from short lived states that may have been caused by starvation. Furthermore, there is a reliance on clinically diagnosed samples presenting a biased view on the relationship between personality and disordered eating.

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Ethical issues must also be considered in anorexia nervosa research as, researchers increasingly use internet communities such as chat rooms and discussion boards as sources of qualitative data relating to those who have anorexia or those who support them. However, internet research raises ethical issues such as privacy, informed consent and confidentiality as well as the potential harm the research or any research like this could result in, meaning they must find ways to overcome these issues before proceeding with the research.

There are also real world applications for anorexia nervosa which show that the fashion industry in France have acknowledged the damaging influence the media has on body image. A charter was signed by fashion houses, advertising agencies and magazine editors agreeing to use a variety of body types as well as to not stereotype thinness as the ideal body image. This means that they are trying to stop eating disorders and promote a healthy body image to young women.

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