The dynamics of self-control: within-participant modeling of binary food choices and underlying decision processes as a function of restrained eating


Successful self-control during food choice might require inhibition of impulses to avoid indulging in tempting but calorie- dense foods, and this might particularly apply to individuals restraining their food intake. Adopting a novel within-participant modeling approach, we tested 62 females during a mouse-tracking based binary food choice task. Subsequent ratings of foods on palatability, healthiness, and calorie density were modeled as predictors for both decision outcome (choice) and decision process (measures of self-control conflict) while considering the moderating role of restrained eating. Results revealed that individuals higher on restrained eating were less likely to choose more high-calorie foods and showed less self-control conflict when choosing healthier foods. The latter finding is in contrast with the common assumption of self- control as requiring effortful and conscious inhibition of temptation impulses. Interestingly, restrained eaters rated healthy and low-calorie foods as more palatable than individuals with lower restrained eating scores, both in the main experiment and an independent replication study, hinting at an automatic and rather effortless mechanism of self-control (palatability shift) that obviates effortful inhibition of temptation impulses.

Psychological Research