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The Pavlovian craver: Neural and experiential correlates of single trial naturalistic food conditioning in humans

Blechert, J., Testa, G., Georgii, C., Klimesch, W., Wilhelm, F.H.
Physiology & behavior 2016 v.158 pp. 18-25
brain, foods, humans, obesity, overeating, pandemic, taste
Present-day environments are replete with tempting foods and the current obesity pandemic speaks to humans' inability to adjust to this. Pavlovian processes may be fundamental to such hedonic overeating. However, a lack of naturalistic Pavlovian paradigms in humans makes translational research difficult and important parameters such as implicitness and acquisition speed are unknown. Here we present a novel naturalistic conditioning task: an image of a neutral object was conditioned to marzipan taste in a single trial procedure by asking the participant to eat the ‘object’ (made from marzipan). Relative to control objects, results demonstrate robust pre- to post-conditioning changes of both subjective ratings and early as well as late event related brain potentials, suggesting contributions of implicit (attentional) and explicit (motivational) processes. Naturalistic single-trial taste-appetitive conditioning is potent in humans and shapes attentional and motivational neural processes that might challenge self-regulation during exposure to tempting foods. Thus, appetitive conditioning processes might contribute to overweight and obesity.