Sandwich or sweets? An assessment of two novel implicit association tasks to capture dynamic motivational tendencies and stable evaluations towards foods

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Desire, purchase, and consumption of fast-moving consumer goods often follow actual motivational states instead of habitual preferences. This has led to an increasing interest within health sciences to investigate the causes for irrational eating behaviours among consumers, particularly with the use of indirect measurements. However, literature results on the relationship between dynamic, motivational concepts (e.g., approach or avoidance tendencies) and evaluative concepts (e.g., positive or negative associations) remain inconclusive, possibly due to the use of different experimental manipulations and methodologies to operationalize these. Our aim with this study is to contribute to this line of research by developing a novel methodology that is based on structurally identical indirect measurement procedures. We measured explicit desire (motivation) and liking (evaluation) of two different foods (sandwich and sweets) on visual analogue scales, as well as implicit approach-avoidance tendencies and implicit positive-negative associations with two variants of the recoding-free Implicit Association Tests (IAT-RFs). At first, all participants (N=108) unwrapped, smelled, and explicitly judged the two foods, then all watched a video clip (during which half of the participants were allowed to eat the sandwich but not the sweets), and finally they all performed the two indirect measurements. Thus, desire for the foods was experimentally manipulated between participants. We hypothesized that a valid measure should show an interaction of food category (manipulated within participants) and desire fulfilment. Hence, explicit desire and implicit approach motivation should be higher for participants that were not allowed to consume the sandwich and fulfil their desire, compared to the group that was able to eat the sandwich during the experiment. Results confirm our hypothesis. The motivational IAT-RF correctly assessed approach tendencies towards the sandwich in the group that did not eat, and approach tendencies towards the sweets in the group that just ate a sandwich. In contrast, the evaluative IAT-RF measure did not reflect a clear "preference" towards any of the two popular products in both groups. This research provides a potentially relevant methodology for consumer studies' by offering a chance to differentiate between implicit motivational and evaluative concepts within consumer behaviour.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-19
JournalFood Quality and Preference
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Food reward
  • Hunger
  • Implicit measures
  • Motivation
  • Recoding free Implicit Association Test (IAT-RF)

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