Research Fellow Post at UoB !

971We are looking for a new Reserach Fellow to join our EBRG team!!!

The research fellow will work on a project that aims to conducting the first systematic examination of the mechanisms that underlie social facilitation of eating and assess whether these effects are compensated over time. Findings from the studies will enhance understanding external drivers of overconsumption and provide novel data on how overeating in social context may be avoided.

See for more details

For more information please contact Suzanne Higgs;


Congratulations to Dr Panagiota Kaisari


This week Panagiota Kaisari succefully passed her PhD viva at the University of Birmingham. We congratulate Dr Kaisari on this great achievement! Her thesis titled ‘Neurocognitive processes in disordered eating‘; here Dr Kaisari aimed to better understand the specific cognitive and neural mechanisms that may serve as risk factors to the development of disordered eating behaviour. Her work provided novel and theoretical insights into the role of attention in guiding eating behaviour. We as the ERGB are very proud of the fresh doctor and her accomplishment. !Well done!



New Paper in Psychopharmacology

New paper in by Thomas, J. M., Dourish, C. T., Tomlinson, J., Hassan-Smith, Z., Hansen, P. C., & Higgs, S.

The present study examined the effects of the 5-HT2C receptor agonist meta-chlorophenylpiperazine (mCPP) on food consumption, eating microstructure and blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) responses to food pictures in healthy female volunteers. Methods: In a double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover design, participants were randomized immediately after screening to receive oral mCPP (30mg) in a single morning dose, or placebo, in a counterbalanced order. Test foods were served from a Universal Eating Monitor (UEM) that measured eating rate and fMRI BOLD signals to the sight of food and non-food images were recorded. ResultsmCPP decreased rated appetite and intake of a palatable snack eaten in the absence of hunger but had no significant effect on the consumption of a pasta lunch (although pasta eating rate was reduced). mCPP also decreased BOLD fMRI responses to the sight of food pictures in areas of reward-associated circuitry. A post hoc analysis identified individual variability in the response to mCPP (exploratory responder-non-responder analysis). Some participants did not reduce their cookie intake after treatment with mCPP and this lack of response was associated with enhanced ratings of cookie pleasantness and enhanced baseline BOLD responses to food images in key reward and appetite circuitry. CONCLUSIONS: These results suggest that 5-HT2C receptor activation in humans inhibits food reward-related responding and that further investigation of stratification of responding to mCPP and other 5-HT2C receptor agonists is warranted.

New Review in Journal of Psychopharmacology

Interactions between metabolic, reward and cognitive processes in appetite control: Implications for novel weight management therapies


Traditional models of appetite control have emphasised the role of parallel homeostatic and hedonic systems, but more recently the distinction between independent homeostatic and hedonic systems has been abandoned in favour of a framework that emphasises the cross talk between the neurochemical substrates of the two systems. In addition, evidence has emerged more recently, that higher level cognitive functions such as learning, memory and attention play an important role in everyday appetite control and that homeostatic signals also play a role in cognition. Here, we review this evidence and present a comprehensive model of the control of appetite that integrates cognitive, homeostatic and reward mechanisms. We discuss the implications of this model for understanding the factors that may contribute to disordered patterns of eating and suggest opportunities for developing more effective treatment approaches for eating disorders and weight management.



!!ESRC grant awarded to Suzanne Higgs!!

ESRC grant awarded to study how social context affects eating

!!! Congratulations to Suzanne Higgs, Jeff Brunstrom and Lenny Vartanian !!!

Professor Suzanne Higgs from the University of Birmingham, together with Professor Jeff Brunstrom from the University of Bristol and Associate Professor Lenny Vartanian from the University of New South Wales, Australia, have been awarded an ESRC Grant worth £500K for a project that aims to understand how eating with other people affects appetite.

What is the focus of the new research: There are many aspects of our current eating environment that may promote overconsumption of food such as the recent trend towards food products being available in large portion sizes and the omnipresence of tasty foods all around us. Another potentially important factor is the social context in which eating occurs: it has been observed that eating in a group of friends or family increases consumption at that meal by around 70%. Researchers are only beginning to understand how and why who we eat with affects our food choices and there has been no investigation whether this “social facilitation” of eating results in increased cumulative energy intake over time. The University of Birmingham has partnered with Weight Watchers to understand why social facilitation of eating occurs and whether the increase in intake is compensated for in the longer term. The results will help us understand why who we eat with affects appetite and how the effects of social facilitation of eating may be avoided or mitigated.

New paper: Current findings on the role of oxytocin in the regulation of food intake

Dr Maartje Spetter, a post-doctoral researcher in the lab, has recently published a new paper in Physiology & Behavior. The paper is titled “Current findings on the role of oxytocin in the regulation of food intake” and can be found here.


In the face of the alarming prevalence of obesity and its associated metabolic impairments, it is of high basic and clinical interest to reach a complete understanding of the central nervous pathways that establish metabolic control. In recent years, the hypothalamic neuropeptide oxytocin, which is primarily known for its involvement in psychosocial processes and reproductive behavior, has received increasing attention as a modulator of metabolic function. Oxytocin administration to the brain of normal-weight animals, but also animals with diet-induced or genetically engineered obesity reduces food intake and body weight, and can also increase energy expenditure. Up to now, only a handful of studies in humans have investigated oxytocin’s contribution to the regulation of eating behavior. Relying on the intranasal pathway of oxytocin administration, which is a non-invasive strategy to target central nervous oxytocin receptors, these experiments have yielded some promising first results. In normal-weight and obese individuals, intranasal oxytocin acutely limits meal intake and the consumption of palatable snacks. It is still unclear to which extent – or if at all – such metabolic effects of oxytocin in humans are conveyed or modulated by oxytocin’s impact on cognitive processes, in particular on psychosocial function. We shortly summarize the current literature on oxytocin’s involvement in food intake and metabolic control, ponder potential links to social and cognitive processes, and address future perspectives as well as limitations of oxytocin administration in experimental and clinical contexts.


Seminar Series 16th March 2017

Today’s seminar was taken by Ifeoma Egbunwe and Evie Bradbury, two MSc students on the Brain Imaging and Cognitive Neuroscience MSc programme. They have been working with Dr Emily Collins and Dr Maartje Spetter for the last few months, and presented their plans for their MSc theses, which will be supervised by Dr Maartje Spetter and Prof Suzanne Higgs.


Evie Bradbury presented her plans and predictions for her study entitled “Effect of 5-HT2C Receptor Against Meta-chlorophenylpiperazine (mCPP) on Snack Food Consumption, Inhibitory Control and BOLD responses”.

Ifeoma Egbunwe then presented her plans and predictions for her study, entitled “The effect of Meta-Chlorophenylpiperazine (mCCP) on Food Attention Memory, Emotional Related Memory and Working Memory Performance.



New Paper: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and disordered eating behaviour: A systematic review and a framework for future research

Doctoral researcher Panagiota Kaisari and Prof Suzanne Higgs have published a paper in Clinical Psychology Review, entitled “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and disordered eating behaviour: A systematic review and a framework for future research”.  The full paper can be found here.


Preliminary findings suggest that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may be associated with disordered eating behaviour, but whether there is sufficient evidence to suggest an association between ADHD and specific types of disordered eating behaviour is unclear. Furthermore, it is uncertain whether specific features associated with ADHD are differentially associated with disordered eating behaviour. A systematic review of seventy-five studies was conducted to evaluate the potential association between ADHD symptomatology and disordered eating behaviour and to provide an estimate of the strength of evidence for any association. Overall, a moderate strength of evidence exists for a positive association between ADHD and disordered eating and with specific types of disordered-eating behaviour, in particular, overeating behaviour. There is consistent evidence that impulsivity symptoms of ADHD are positively associated with overeating and bulimia nervosa and more limited evidence for an association between hyperactivity symptoms and restrictive eating in males but not females. Further research is required to assess the potential direction of the relationship between ADHD and disordered eating, the underlying mechanisms and the role of specific ADHD symptoms in the development and/or maintenance of disordered eating behaviour. We propose a framework that could be used to guide the design of future studies.

Ingestive Behaviour Group Seminar


Last week’s seminar was led by Panagiota Kaisari, a Doctoral Researcher in the lab. Her talk was entitled Attention Deficit Hyperativity Disorder (ADHD) and Disordered Eating.


Accumulating evidence suggests a strong link between Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Eating Disorders (EDs) and/or Disordered Eating (DE) behaviours. However, still remains unclear whether ADHD relates to specific types of EDs and DE behaviours, such as binge eating and restrictive eating behaviours, and what are the mechanisms underlying these associations. What is more, the role of core symptoms of ADHD in the development of EDs and DE behaviours has been rarely investigated. In this presentation, I will provide a background of the existing research in the field highlighting our main findings from a systematic review in ADHD & Disordered Eating Behaviour, which involved the systematic evaluation of 72 studies and will present findings from two research studies that tried to answer some of the outstanding questions in the field. In accordance with the National Institute of Mental Health Research Domain Criteria Initiative (RDoC), which encourages research on dimensions of observable behaviour rather than a categorical, symptom-based approach to the study of mental health, we studied ADHD and DE using a dimensional approach. Clinical implications of our findings will be discussed, along with suggestions for future research.

New paper: The effect of real-time vibrotactile feedback delivered through an augmented fork on eating rate, satiation, and food intake

Prof. Suzanne Higgs has co-authored a new paper, published in the latest issue of Appetite. The paper is entitled “The effect of real-time vibrotactile feedback delivered through an augmented fork on eating rate, satiation, and food intake” .

The full paper can be accessed here.


Eating rate is a basic determinant of appetite regulation, as people who eat more slowly feel sated earlier and eat less. Without assistance, eating rate is difficult to modify due to its automatic nature. In the current study, participants used an augmented fork that aimed to decelerate their rate of eating. A total of 114 participants were randomly assigned to the Feedback Condition (FC), in which they received vibrotactile feedback from their fork when eating too fast (i.e., taking more than one bite per 10 s), or a Non-Feedback Condition (NFC). Participants in the FC took fewer bites per minute than did those in the NFC. Participants in the FC also had a higher success ratio, indicating that they had significantly more bites outside the designated time interval of 10 s than did participants in the NFC. A slower eating rate, however, did not lead to a significant reduction in the amount of food consumed or level of satiation. These findings indicate that real-time vibrotactile feedback delivered through an augmented fork is capable of reducing eating rate, but there is no evidence from this study that this reduction in eating rate is translated into an increase in satiation or reduction in food consumption. Overall, this study shows that real-time vibrotactile feedback may be a viable tool in interventions that aim to reduce eating rate. The long-term effectiveness of this form of feedback on satiation and food consumption, however, awaits further investigation.