Situating desire: Situational cues affect desire for food through eating simulations

Esther K. Papies*, Aart van Stekelenburg, Monique A.M. Smeets, Elizabeth H. Zandstra, Garmt B. Dijksterhuis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


How do situations influence food desire? Although eating typically occurs in rich background situations, research on food desire often focuses on the properties of foods and consumers, rather than on the situations in which eating takes place. Here, we take a grounded cognition perspective and suggest that a situation that is congruent with consuming a food increases simulations of eating it, which, in turn, affect desire, and the expected and actual liking of the food. We tested this idea in four pre-registered experiments (N = 524). Participants processed an image of a food presented in a congruent situation, an incongruent situation, or no background situation. Compared to the incongruent situation, the congruent situation increased expected liking of the food and desire, and this was partially or fully mediated by eating simulations. The congruent situation also increased salivation, a physiological indicator of preparing to eat. However, there was only weak and indirect evidence for congruence effects on actual liking of the food when tasted. These findings show that situational cues can affect desire for food through eating simulations. Thus, background situations play an important but understudied role in human food desires. We address implications for research using food images, and for applications to promote healthy and sustainable eating behaviour.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105679
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2022


  • Context effects
  • Desire
  • Eating behaviour
  • Grounded cognition
  • Mental simulation
  • Motivation
  • Salivation


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