Scientists at the Laboratory for Social and Neural Systems Research at the University of Zurich researched the role of stress in relation to diet.
Stress is already liked to health problems and weight gain but the scientists wanted to look at how stress drives you to your coworker’s candy dish versus the apple you packed. Mild stress may send the most disciplined eater to the vending machine.
The study “Acute Stress Impairs Self-Control in Goal-Directed Choice by Altering Multiple Functional Connections within the Brain’s Decision Circuits” looks at how stressful circumstances can compromise one’s self-regulatory behavior.
The scientists took 51 young men and divided them into two groups where one served as a control.
The participants were asked to look at images of food on a screen and rate them for taste and healthfulness.
The men in the experimental group were put under “stress.” Basically putting their hand in cold water to induce mild stress (this increased their cortisol compared to the control group who did not have this done). The scientists did fMRIs following dress, they found “… that stress increased the influence of immediately rewarding taste attributes on choice and reduced self-control.
This choice pattern was accompanied by increased functional connectivity between ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and amygdala and striatal regions encoding tastiness” (Maier, Makwana, Hare, 2015).
Lead author on the study Todd Hare reported “think about an action path that improves your choice… If you know you will have a hard time resisting don’t store snacks at home.”
You can also find this study on The New York Times Well blog: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/08/20/candy-brain/