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Emmitt Horvatits, Psychology
Faculty Mentor(s): Professor Naomi McKay, Psychology

It is well known that stress increases caloric intake. Perhaps because of this, stress tends to be associated with weight gain and obesity. What remains unclear is whether stress actually increases motivation to work for food. We hypothesized that after a mild stressor participants would be more motivated to work towards an unhealthy food item compared to a healthier food item. Participants came into the laboratory, rated their anxiety and hunger and then either went through a stress condition or no stress condition. They were then given the chance to play a slot machine game where half of the participants worked for an unhealthy food item (M&Ms) and half worked for a healthy food item (grapes) or worked for reading time. During the game, participants clicked the mouse to win points that would earn them portions of food. The number of clicks needed to win a food portion increased exponentially. Preliminary results found that after a stressor, participants in the unhealthy food condition were more motivated to work towards the food rather than reading time. Overall, it seems individuals may be more motivated to work towards unhealthy foods rather than an alternative activity after stress.

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Stress Increases Motivation to Work for an Unhealthy Food Item
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