Self-regulation of healthy nutrition: automatic and controlled processes
BACKGROUND Self-regulatory behaviour refers to both controlled and automatic processes. When people are distracted, automatic over controlled processes prevail. This was analysed with regard to nutritional behaviour (food choices, beverage intake) in situations of low or high distraction. METHODS A self-concept Implicit Association Test (IAT) was adapted to assess the implicit associations of self (vs. other) with healthy (vs. unhealthy) food. Explicit preferences for healthy and unhealthy food and the diet's healthiness were measured by self-report. Both implicit and explicit measures were used as predictors of nutritional behaviour. Among 90 undergraduates, the choice of fruit versus snack in a food choice task (low distraction) and the amount of mineral water and soft drinks consumed in a taste comparison task to cover liquid intake (high distraction) were observed. RESULTS In the low distraction situation, food choice was predicted solely by explicit measures. Fruits were chosen less, when unhealthy foods were explicitly liked. In the high distraction situation, mineral water intake was predicted solely by the IAT. Participants implicitly associating themselves with healthy foods drank more mineral water than those implicitly associating themselves with unhealthy foods. CONCLUSIONS Nutritional behaviour is influenced by both automatic and controlled processes depending on the available capacity for self-regulation.