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What 'Food Porn' Does to the Brain — The Atlantic


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Does it make the brain appreciate real food less?

Argh.

The chef’s maxim that people first eat with their eyes is backed both by common sense—food stylists exist for a reason, and a glistening grill-marked burger that oozes cheese is an easier sell than a limp, gray one—and by science. A 2012 studypublished in the journal Physiology and Behavior, for example, found that seemingly minute details about a dish’s appearance, like “gloss, evenness, and shape,” can alter how diners perceive its taste and smell.

But what happens when eating with the eyes is the only step, rather than just the first—when the image isn’t a bridge to smelling and tasting a dish, but the entire experience?

Some scientists believe—like Simpson—that images of food only trigger the desire for the real thing. A 2012 study, for example, found that just looking at pictures of food may be enough to cause an uptick in ghrelin, a hormone that causes hunger.

One reason may be that looking primes the brain for eating. “If you think about throwing a baseball, your brain reacts like you’re really throwing a baseball,” explained Gabriella Petrick, a professor of nutrition and food studies at George Mason University. “When we eat things, different parts of our brain light up in different ways. It’s not just taste—we evoke sight, we evoke hearing, we evoke lots of different [things] as our brain tries to construct what our food is.”

Counter with ...

But other research has shown that when it comes to appetite, food porn may be a substitute for food itself. One 2011 study found that looking at pictures of food may turn people off from the real thing—but only if the food in the image has a similar flavor to whatever real item is about to be consumed. When volunteers viewed photos of salty snacks and then ate salted peanuts, they tended to enjoy the nuts less than people who had viewed photos of desserts.

Taken in sum, the research, with all its contradictions, doesn’t reveal much. And ideas about why people take so much pleasure in sharing their food-porn images are as varied as theories about why people view them.

And in 2013 study in mice published in the journalNature Neuroscience, when researchers flooded the reward centers of the rodents’ brains with insulin, a hormone that triggers feelings of fullness, the mice lost interest in returning to places where they had previously been given food—suggesting, the authors said, that the brain’s reward centers may not respond as much to “food cues”—a feeding area for mice, a photo for humans—when the brain knows that the stomach is full.

So it stimulates the appetite but also might be satisfying enough by itself to substitute for food?

That first part:  only if the images stimulate the production of ghrelin.

That second part: only if the images stimulate the production of insulin.

That's a good summary!

Also note that stimulating images can have supernormal effects on the brain:

http://pandawhale.com/post/37558/supernormal-stimuli-and-our-lizard-brains-are-humans-truly-ready-for-junk-food-tv-video-games-porn-or-the-internet

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