Research Shows Visualising Rewards May Help Women Control Weight
Effect seems to have no bias to actual weight
According to the new study, women who took the time to think about their future scenarios were able to postpone basic food-based gratification easier. The effect seemed to take effect whether or not the individual was overweight or thin, which would make it a universal quality.
“This research is certainly welcome news for people who have struggled to lose weight, because it shows that when people are taught to imagine, or simulate the future, they can improve their ability to delay gratification,” said Leonard H. Epstein, Ph.D., professor in the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, who was senior author on the research.
Epstein noted that there are many who find it difficult to resist impulse or delay any form of gratification when faced with particular payoffs. Instead, they tend to engage in what is called “delay discounting” which means they discount the future larger rewards for smaller current rewards.
Such tendencies are associated with a great consumption in calories and sugars overall, says Epstein. Experts are now speculating that if one could modify delay discounting, they will be more successful overall. The trick will be figuring out just how to do that.
“Now we have developed a treatment for this,” he said. “We can teach people how to reduce delay discounting, where they learn how to mentally simulate the future in order to moderate their behavior in the present.”
Epstein's own study focused on slowly tapering away immediate rewards in the form of food monetary gain in the short term to gain in the long term. For instance, if someone chose between $95 and $100 in six months, they would be told to think of reward they could receive in six months. Something that would be truly enjoyable to them. The control group in the experiment was not instructed to think up such a scenario.
Researchers then found that women who engaged in the active thinking exercise were able to better reduce delay discounting, regardless of the weight/size of the woman.
“In the current study, we show that episodic future thinking works equally well in overweight and obese women in comparison to lean women,” he said.“That’s important since several studies have shown that overweight/obese women are more impulsive. The fact that projecting oneself into the future and imagining future scenarios works equally well for lean and overweight/obese women is important for designing interventions to reduce impulsive decision making in women who need to lose weight.”
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