Handbook of Behavior, Food and Nutrition

pp 2285-2305


Reinforcement and Food Hedonics: A Look at How Energy Deprivation Impacts Food Reward

  • Jameason D. Cameron
  • , Éric DoucetAffiliated withBehavioral and Metabolic Research Unit, School of Human Kinetics, University of Ottawa Email author 

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In a detailed analysis of the psychobiology of feeding behavior with particular attention to food reward, this chapter describes theories and data on reinforcement and taste perception. This chapter will also provide evidence for an explanation of what may account for the large variation in the individual response to a similar food stimulus, highlighting the role of peripheral feeding signals (e.g., the “hunger hormone” ghrelin or the adiposity-marker hormone leptin) and the role of the neurotransmitter dopamine. What is interesting is that when energy deprivation is prolonged not only does palatable food become more salient but items that would normally not be selected can also become attractive. The fact that this increased hedonic valence is similar for rodents and primates (including humans) is indicative of common (neuro)biological underpinnings. Although it will be argued that nutritional state – whether defined by acute or chronic energy deprivation – can impact the “liking” and “wanting” of a food stimulus, it will also be argued that humans also eat in the absence of energy needs due to simple Pavlovian learning. New evidence from studies on taste and olfaction are presented and it appears that, continuous with leptin’s role as a marker of energy reserves, when leptin levels are high (signaling adequate reserves) there is a corresponding decrease in sensitivity to taste and to olfactory stimuli. Merging together literature on the dopamine hypothesis of feeding and the incentive salience hypothesis, this chapter will also describe the current views of how the neurotransmitter dopamine impacts the motivational component of food reward. The pleasure/palatability component of food reward will also be described in a comprehensive format at the behavioral and neurophysiological level. A question that remains to be answered is the extent to which homeostatic components (nutritional need-states) can impact the quality of orosensory reward, thereby enhancing food hedonics and ultimately compromising appetite control.