ESRC Festival of Social Science 2018

Last week, EBRG hosted an event for the ESRC Festival of Social Science 2018.

The event included talks from Suzanne Higgs, Helen Ruddock and Maartje Spetter and hands-on demos of estimating portion size and guessing the sugar content of food.

We had a great time talking to everyone about our research – so thank you to everyone who came, and thank you to Helen who organised the event!





Mind Over Matter: Neurobiological Advances in Clinical Management of Eating Disordered Brain

On the 2nd November, Suzanne will give a talk at the The Faculty of Eating Disorders Psychiatry Annual Conference 2018 – Mind Over Matter: Neurobiological Advances in Clinical Management of Eating Disordered Brain.

The topic of her talk will be Neurobiology of Learning, Memory and Attention in Eating Behaviour and its Clinical Correlations.

The event is hosted by the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Weight management and Appetite – a transferable skills workshop

Tomorrow (1st November), Suzanne Higgs, Elizabeth Schneider and Elizabeth Martin will be at the School of Psychology at the University of Leeds for a workshop on weight management and appetite.

Suzanne is an invited speaker and will be giving a talk about her findings and methodologies to study weight management and appetite.

Elizabeth and Elizabeth will both give a 3 minute talk on their PhD topic

New paper published! – Two observational studies examining the effect of a social norm and a health message on the purchase of vegetables in student canteen settings

Suzanne Higgs is an author on a new paper: Two observational studies examining the effect of a social norm and a health message on the purchase of vegetables in student canteen settings.


There is some evidence from laboratory-based studies that descriptive social-norm messages are associated with increased consumption of vegetables, but evidence of their effectiveness in real-world settings is limited. In two observational field studies taking an ecological approach, a vegetable-related social norm (e.g. “Did you know that most students here choose to eat vegetables with their meal?”), and a health message (e.g. “Did you know that students who choose to eat vegetables have a lower risk of heart disease?”) were displayed in two different student canteens. Purchases were observed during three stages: baseline, intervention (when the posters were displayed) and immediate post-intervention (when the posters had been removed). Study 1 (n = 7598) observed the purchase of meals containing a portion of vegetables and Study 2 (n = 4052) observed the purchase of side portions of vegetables. In Study 1, relative to baseline, the social-norms intervention was associated with an increase in purchases of vegetables (from 63% to 68% of meals; OR = 1.24, CI = 1.03–1.49), which was sustained post-intervention (67% of meals; OR = 0.96, CI = 0.80–1.15). There was no effect of the health message (75% of meals at baseline, and 74% during the intervention; OR = 0.98, CI = 0.83–1.15). In Study 2, relative to baseline, there was an effect of both the social norm (22.9% of meals at baseline, rising to 32.5% during the intervention; OR = 1.62, CI = 1.27–2.05) and health message (rising from 43.8% at baseline to 52.8%; OR = 0.59, CI = 0.46-0.75). The increase was not sustained post-intervention for the social norm intervention (22.1%; OR = 0.59, CI = 0.46-0.75), but was sustained for the health intervention (48.1%; OR = 0.83, CI = 0.67–1.02). These results support further testing of the effectiveness of such messages in encouraging healthier eating and indicate the need for larger-scale testing at multiple sites using a randomised-controlled design.


Read it here! –!

Jennifer Temple Visit 24th Sept-3rd Oct

EBRG are very excited to be hosting Jennifer Temple from Buffalo University between 24th September and 3rd October. Jennifer’s visit will include her giving an IMH seminar on the 24th September on her work on caffeine, and a talk to EBRG on the 26th September.

Jennifer is the  director of the Nutrition and Health Research Laboratory at Buffalo University. Her research spans investigating the link between food additives and behaviour, individual differences that predict weight gain, and motivation for eating. Jennifer and her lab  currently have funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to study the impact of caffeine use on behavior, physiology and mood in children and adolescents.

We all look forward to hearing about Jennifer’s research!

New paper accepted into the International Journal of Obesity: Top-Down Guidance of Attention to Food Cues is enhanced in Individuals with Overweight/Obesity and Predicts Change in weight at One-Year Follow Up

A new paper, titled Top-Down Guidance of Attention to Food Cues is enhanced in Individuals with Overweight/Obesity and Predicts Change in weight at One-Year Follow Up, and authored by Panagiota Kaisari, Sudhesh Kumar, John Hattersley, Colin Dourish, Pia Rotshtein, and Suzanne Higgs  has been accepted into the International Journal of Obesity

New paper about associations between ADHD and binge/restrictive eating by Panagiota Kaisari

Associations Between Core Symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Both Binge and Restrictive Eating

Authors:  Panagiota Kaisari, Colin T Dourish, Pia Rotshtein, Suzanne Higgs
Front. Psychiatry, 29 March 2018 |

Introduction: It is unclear whether core symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) relate to specific types of disordered eating and little is known about the mediating mechanisms. We investigated associations between core symptoms of ADHD and binge/disinhibited eating and restrictive eating behavior and assessed whether negative mood and/or deficits in awareness and reliance on internal hunger/satiety cues mediate these relationships.

Methods: In two independent studies, we used a dimensional approach to study ADHD and disordered eating. In Study 1, a community-based sample of 237 adults (72.6% female, 18–60 years [M = 26.8, SE = 0.6]) completed an online questionnaire, assessing eating attitudes/behaviors, negative mood, awareness, and reliance on internal hunger/satiety cues and ADHD symptomatology. In Study 2, 142 students (80.3% female, 18–32 years [M = 19.3, SE = 0.1]) were recruited to complete the same questionnaires and complete tasks assessing interoceptive sensitivity and impulsivity in the laboratory.

Results: In each study, core symptoms of ADHD correlated positively with both binge/disinhibited and restrictive eating and negative mood mediated the relationships. Deficits in awareness and reliance on internal hunger/satiety signals also mediated the association between inattentive symptoms of ADHD and disordered eating, especially binge/disinhibited eating. The results from both studies demonstrated that inattentive symptoms of ADHD were also directly related to binge/disinhibited eating behavior, while accounting for the indirect pathways of association via negative mood and awareness and reliance on internal hunger/satiety signals.

Conclusion: This research provides evidence that core symptoms of ADHD are associated with both binge/disinhibited eating and restrictive eating behavior. Further investigation of the role of inattentive symptoms of ADHD in disordered eating may be helpful in developing novel treatments for both ADHD and binge eating.

Oxytocin curbs calorie intake – new article in Scientific Report by Maartje Spetter et al

Oxytocin curbs calorie intake via food-specific increases in the activity of brain areas that process reward and establish cognitive control.

Spetter MS, Feld GB, Thienel M, Preissl H, Hege MA, Hallschmid M.
Sci Rep. 2018 Feb 9;8(1):2736. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-20963-4.

Abstract: The hypothalamic neurohormone oxytocin decreases food intake via largely unexplored mechanisms. We investigated the central nervous mediation of oxytocin’s hypophagic effect in comparison to its impact on the processing of generalized rewards. Fifteen fasted normal-weight, young men received intranasal oxytocin (24 IU) or placebo before functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) measurements of brain activity during exposure to food stimuli and a monetary incentive delay task (MID). Subsequently, ad-libitum breakfast intake was assessed. Oxytocin compared to placebo increased activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, supplementary motor area, anterior cingulate, and ventrolateral prefrontal cortices in response to high- vs. low-calorie food images in the fasted state, and reduced calorie intake by 12%. During anticipation of monetary rewards, oxytocin compared to placebo augmented striatal, orbitofrontal and insular activity without altering MID performance. We conclude that during the anticipation of generalized rewards, oxytocin stimulates dopaminergic reward-processing circuits. In contrast, oxytocin restrains food intake by enhancing the activity of brain regions that exert cognitive control, while concomitantly increasing the activity of structures that process food reward value. This pattern points towards a specific role of oxytocin in the regulation of eating behaviour in humans that might be of relevance for potential clinical applications.



Welcome Dr Helen Ruddock

PastedGraphic-1_HelenThis month we have the honour to welcome Dr Helen Ruddock into our reserach group. Helen has a background in psychology focusing on addiction-like eating. Her work at the EBRG will focus on research that examines the mechanisms which underlie the social facilitation of eating (i.e. the tendency for people to eat more in social situations). This is a 3-year ESRC-funded project in collaboration with Professor Jeff Brunstrom from the University of Bristol and Associate Professor Lenny Vartanian from the University of New South Wales, Australia.

Cognitive Control of Eating – NEW REVIEW

New review out in Current Obesity Reports

by Suzanne Higgs & Maartje Spetter

Cognitive Control of Eating: the Role of Memory in Appetite and Weight Gain

PURPOSE OF REVIEW: The present review organises the recent literature on the role of memory in eating behaviours and provides an overview of the current evidence relating to the associations between memory and weight gain.

RECENT FINDINGS: Research over the last few years has highlighted working memory as an important cognitive process that underpins many aspects of appetite control. Recent work on episodic memory and appetite has replicated work showing that manipulating memory for recent eating affects later consumption and extended this work to examine associations between individual differences in memory and eating behaviours. Poorer episodic memory ability is related to a reduced sensitivity to internal states of hunger and satiety and a tendency towards uncontrolled eating. There is also recent evidence to suggest that working memory and episodic memory impairments are related to weight gain and high BMI. Working memory and episodic memory are core cognitive processes that are critical for food-related decision-making, and disruption to these processes contributes to problems with appetite control and weight gain, which suggests that weight loss programmes might be improved by the addition of cognitive training.