Original Investigation


, Volume 173, Issue 1, pp 217-220

Selective processing of food words during insulin-induced hypoglycemia in healthy humans

  • Stuart BrodyAffiliated withDivision of Psychosomatic Medicine, BIM, University Hospital BaselInstitute of Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurobiology, University of Tübingen
  • , Ulrich KellerAffiliated withDepartment of Endocrinology, Diabetology and Clinical Nutrition, Department of Internal Medicine, University Hospital Basel
  • , Lukas DegenAffiliated withClinical Research Center and Gastroenterology, University Hospital Basel
  • , Daniel J. CoxAffiliated withBehavioral Medicine Research Center, University of Virginia
  • , Hartmut SchächingerAffiliated withDivision of Psychosomatic Medicine, BIM, University Hospital BaselDivision of Clinical Physiology, Psychobiology, University of Trier Email author 

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access



Hypoglycemia leads to undernutrition of the brain. Favoring selective processing of food stimuli would be an adaptive cognitive strategy. However, hypoglycemia is known to impair several aspects of cognitive function, and it is unknown whether selective cognitive processing of food stimuli occurs during insulin-induced hypoglycemia.


In a single-blind repeated measures design, healthy young adults (n=12, six female, mean age 28 years; mean body mass index 22.5 kg/m2) performed a standard Stroop word-color test, as well as a variant with food words designed to detect selective processing of food cues. Two sessions were scheduled with a 4-week interval. In each session, a hyperinsulinemic clamp method produced a normoglycemic (plasma glucose: 4.7 mmol/l) period, followed on 1 day by a hypoglycemic (2.7 mmol/l) testing period, and on the other day a second normoglycemic testing period (counterbalanced order).


Color naming verbal reaction time (RT) increased during hypoglycemia (P<0.0001). The extent of the Stroop cognitive interference was independent of plasma glucose level. The key finding is that RT for food words increased more than for non-food control words (P<0.004), and this effect was not predicted by hunger ratings.


Our data provide new evidence that during hypoglycemia, attention is directed selectively to food-relevant stimuli. The results are discussed in terms of adaptation.


Hypoglycemia Plasma glucose Selective attention Hunger Stroop test