After judging a food picture's appeal, ?study participants focused on a blank screen for 500 milliseconds, then were flashed with a disgusting image for 20 milliseconds before being shown an image of food again. Originally published on August 7, 2015 1:04 pm Some days, the french fries are just irresistible. You know it's not the best thing to put in your body, but did that salad really stand a chance after the smell of fried garlic, Parmesan and thyme on crisp potato wedges wafted over to you? Well, Kristina Legget, a psychologist at the University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus, thinks she can muffle that siren song.
In a new study, she suggests there could be a simple way to retrain people's brains into making fries or ice cream or anything else suddenly seem unappealing — even a little disgusting. It's a tool that psychologists call subliminal priming, which works kind of like a Jedi mind trick. It subconsciously implants an idea into someone's mind that influences how they react to whatever comes next. It could be a whisper in the background or a word that rhymes with something you're supposed to choose.


In this case, Legget and her colleagues showed 42 volunteers a picture of a high-calorie food like french fries or hoagies and asked them, "How much would you like to eat this right now?" (Very much, they said.) Then she flashed volunteers a disgusting image, like a picture of ants crawling over pizza or a mutilated leg. The flash was fast enough that the subjects wouldn't be able to consciously recognize the picture, but slow enough to signal a part of the brain called the amygdala — which is "sort of like a memory for emotional systems," explains Dr. Alain Dagher, a neurologist at McGill University in Montreal who was not involved in the study. Their minds were still churning with that phantom repulsion, and those effects lasted, Legget's team reports in the current issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
That suggests the volunteers' brains had actually linked disgust to that type of food, and the association wasn't limited to the moment. In the past, scientists and health researchers have tried putting more information on nutritional labels and educating people on what foods are healthful or unhealthful in an effort to fight obesity. Legget thinks the "disgust" technique could be used to help people make healthier food choices automatically.
She's hoping there could be a DIY program, where people could go online and rewire their brains to dislike fatty foods.


In other words, if people prime their brains this way, the next time they're faced with garlic cheese fries, they might not want them as much.
And there's no guarantee that just because the ice cream feels less seductive, you'd actually eat less of it. If you try to use the tool as a therapy, then patients would be aware they're being primed.
That defeats the purpose of subliminal messaging, says Jennifer Harris, a social psychologist at the University of Connecticut. Besides, billboards, Internet banners and TV ads nudge us to want calorific foods every day, Harris says. Those messages are so pervasive, so inescapable, it's doubtful that one short-term prime could counteract that.Copyright 2015 NPR.



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