The Healthy Cognition Lab is the research laboratory of Esther K. Papies at the Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology, University of Glasgow.
We study the psychological processes underlying health behavior and behavior change. Our research program centers around three main themes: grounded cognitive processes in desire and motivated behavior, applications to increase healthy and sustainable behaviour, and self-regulation in eating and dieting behaviour. In other words, we study how people think about food and how this affects their eating behavior, how people can more effectively pursue their health goals in daily life, and how mindfulness contributes to healthy cognition and well-being.
Among other things, our lab has shown that:
- People represent tempting food in terms of eating and enjoying it (for example, “chips are crunchy, salty and savoury, and you eat them on the sofa while watching a movie”), but they represent healthy food in terms of what it looks like and how you prepare it (for example, “cucumbers are long and green and you can cut them up to put them in a salad”). These consumption simulations have implications for how likely we are to eat these foods. Indeed, simulating the consumption of attractive, unhealthy food triggers salivation as a preparatory response for eating them.
- Applying the meta-cognitive perspective of “decentering” to one’s consumption and reward simulations about food, can reduce food cravings and unhealthy (buffet) choices. Decentering is typically taught in mindfulness training, and it implies looking at one’s thoughts and experiences as transient mental events. We are still trying to understand how exactly this works, especially in relation to more extensive mindfulness training, but it seems to make food simulations less compelling.
- Priming shoppers by showing them words related to healthy eating and dieting can strongly reduce the number of unhealthy snacks that overweight and obese participants purchase in a grocery store. This suggests that health goal primes can be a useful intervention tool to help people eat more healthily. More generally, goal primes seen to modulate our responses to environmental cues, but they need to be situated and target an individual’s existing motivation to be effective.
You can read more about our research here.
You can read and download publications of our research for personal use here.