To be fair, it's not all our fault. The all-powerful junk food industry is masterful at getting us hooked on their sugar-laced gutbombs at an early age, manipulating us into craving things we wish we didn't. But, what if there were a way to trick our brains into preferring the healthier choice?
A new study published over the weekend in the journal Nature Neuroscience claims to shed light on just how easy it is to brainwash humans to eat Snickers over squash — and, potentially, vice versa. Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin polled 200 undergrads on their preferred munchies using a mock auction, asking them to bid on their faves among over 60 junk food options. Each student was then asked to complete a computer "training" program, which showed a succession of photos of the foods they had rated in the auction. Some of the foods were accompanied by a short beep, which signaled the subjects to press a button as quickly as possible.
After completing the program, the subjects were asked to choose between a pair of foods. More than 60% of the time, subjects chose a food that had been associated with the sound over the alternative — regardless of their preferences before the training program. Even more interestingly, when the same test was repeated two months later, the subjects were still more likely to prefer one of the foods that were associated with the auditory cue.
The study's authors and other experts admit that these findings are preliminary and could be limited in scope (alas, there's a big gap between Reese's and radicchio). Still, many are optimistic that this insight into just how our predilections come about could go a long way toward changing the way we look at food. Maybe, just maybe, we'll learn how to hit the produce section first. (Science Magazine)