Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Science




Bodell, Lindsay


Introduction. Loss of control (LOC) eating episodes are eating episodes in which an individual feels they cannot control what or how much they are eating, regardless of the amount of food consumed. These episodes are associated with significant psychological distress, psychiatric comorbidity, and reduced quality of living. Both negative affect and heightened reward processing of food have been posited as mechanisms that contribute to LOC eating. However, few studies have investigated whether negative affect influences reward processing of food and/or non-food rewards in individuals with LOC eating. Understanding how purported mechanisms of LOC work in conjunction may help to identify more accurate risk states for LOC eating and better inform treatment targets. Methods. Participants (N = 46) with LOC eating underwent either a negative or a neutral mood induction prior to performing two behavioral tasks assessing motivation to consume food and non-food rewards. Specifically, the tasks measured the amount of effort participants were willing to expend to receive either chocolate candies or a leisure reward (i.e., the opportunity to play the Angry Birdsgame on a computer for one minute). Mixed ANOVAs were conducted to assess whether participants with LOC eating would expend more effort (i.e., in the form of greater number of keyboard presses) for food rewards relative to leisure rewards and whether this effect would be greater when participants were in a negative (vs. neutral) mood state. Results. We failed to find main effects of mood condition or reward type or an interaction between mood and reward type on the amount of effort expended F(1,44) = 0.4, p = 0.53, ηp2 = .01. Conclusion. Results suggest that mood states may not increase motivation for food in individuals with LOC eating; however, limitations with sample size prohibit strong conclusions from being drawn.

Summary for Lay Audience

Loss of control (LOC) eating occurs when an individual feels as if they do not have control over their eating, regardless of the amount of food they are eating. The experience of LOC can be distressing and contribute to the development of other eating disorder behaviors. Individuals who report LOC-eating episodes report lower quality of life and are more likely to have other mental health disorders. Thus, it is important to understand factors that contribute to LOC eating.

Some researchers have proposed that being in a negative mood increases the likelihood of binge eating (a phenomenon when an individual has loss of control over their eating and eats a very large amount of food). Other researchers have proposed that how rewarding an individual finds food versus other types of rewards (e.g., leisure rewards) can contribute to binge eating. The purpose of the current study was to investigate whether individuals with LOC-eating episodes find food rewards more rewarding than leisure rewards and whether this difference is greater when individuals are in a negative mood state. These questions were assessed by examining how hard individuals with LOC eating worked on a computer task to receive either food rewards (i.e., M&M candies) or leisure rewards (i.e., the opportunity to play the Angry Birdsgame). Half of the participants completed the computer tasks in a negative mood while the other half completed the tasks in a neutral mood.

Despite strong theoretical support for our hypotheses, we did not find a significant difference in how rewarding people found food versus leisure rewards. Moreover, negative mood states did not increase how rewarding participants found the food or leisure rewards. These results imply that negative mood may not increase motivation for food in individuals who experience LOC-eating episodes. This study adds to the literature on factors that contribute to LOC eating by investigating the role of multiple mechanisms at once (reward and mood).

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License