An investigation of cognitive biases in dietary restraint.
Classificationo f individualsa s high and low restrainede aters, accordingt o their relative
score on one of the several restraint assessment questionnaires currently in use, has been
shown to predicta n anomalouse ating pattern,r eferredt o as counter-regulationo r disinhibition
which, appears to be cognitively controlled.
Two main sources of cognitive bias which may characterize dietary restraint In female
college students have been investigated in this thesis; attentional and memory biases for foodrelated
Experiments I-VI assessed selective attention for food-related words. Median split of
subjects on scores from a restraint assessment scale yielded contradictory results. When Middle
scorers on the restraint assessment scale were excluded from the analyses, It became clear
that aftentional biases for food information do not characterize dietary restraint In female college
students. Experiment VI replicated this finding In an adolescent population of school girls. However
in Experiment III, after consumption of a sweet drink (either high or low calorie), significant
Interference effects in colour-narrdng sweet food words emerged for both the high and low
The second series of studies examined memory biases for names of foods which are
generally considered to be lorbidden' to dieters but which they may still crave. Heightened
recall of 'forbidden'f ood words by the high restrainersw as Indicatedi n both ExperimentsV and
VI. The dependence of this memory bias upon the subjects knowing that the experiment is concerned
With food and eating style was examined in Experiment Vill and the differential effect
emerged in both unprimed and primed recall sessions. it was not found In Experiment VII In
which subjectsw ere na7ve.T he final study examinedt he effect of self- versus other- referencing
during encoding on recall of 'forbidden'and 'healthy'food names by high and low restralners.
The experimentsa re discussedi n terms of schematicp rocessingo f emotionally-relevant
Information with reference to Beck's Schema Theory of negative affect (1976, Cognitive Therapy
and the Emotional Disorders. Int. Uni. Press: NY) and Williams, Watts, MacLeod, & Mathews's
model of biased Information processing in emotional disorders (1988, Cognitive Psychology
and Ernotional Disorders. Wiley: Chichester). It Is concluded that dietary restraint may be
characterized by a memory bias for food names which dieters attempt to avoid. These biases,
although statistically significant, were not substantial. it is suggested that future research takes
into account the possibility that distinct categories exist within high restraint groups.