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Imagining Eating Cookies Makes You Eat More Cookies

Even if you think a lot about eating fruit, it won’t be enough to make you actually grab that apple

(Courtesy of Flickr user Dave Crosby)

Fruit is delicious, and we all know we should eat more. So are cookies, although we know we should be eaten fewer. Perhaps just thinking more often about eating fruit might help?

Nope. Psychologists say that simply thinking about eating more fruit won't make you eat more fruit. But thinking about eating a cookie or breakfast bar will make you eat more of those.

The study went like this: Participants were asked to imagine eating a piece of fruit, or a cookie. Then they were asked to answer questions about what kinds of foods they liked, right after the imagination exercise and again a few days later. Researchers also asked participants if they had eaten a piece of fruit or breakfast bar since the experiment. Christian Jarrett at Research Digest explains the results:

Once the researchers controlled for background factors (such as the possibility there were more fruit lovers in one condition or the other), they found that the fruit imagery task made no difference to participants' intentions to eat fruit, no difference to their choice of fruit as a reward, nor their consumption of fruit the next day, as compared with the control group who didn't perform the imagery. For the biscuit bar group, the imagery task increased their intentions to eat biscuit bars in the future, but didn't actually alter their consumption (as compared against the no-imagery control group).

So even if you think a lot about eating fruit, it won't be enough to make you actually grab that apple. But a thought about cookies will be enough to grab one.

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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