Individual differences in the influence of taste and health impact successful dietary self-control: A mouse tracking food choice study in children

Alaina L. Pearce, Shana Adise, Nicole J. Roberts, Corey White, Charles F. Geier, Kathleen L. Keller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


In order to improve dietary quality among children, there is a need to understand how they make decisions about what foods to eat. This study used a mouse tracking food choice task to better understand how attributes such as health and taste contribute to food decisions among 70 children aged 7-to-11 years old. Children rated health, taste, and desire to eat for 76 common foods that varied in energy density and then used a computer mouse to select which of two presented foods they would like to eat. The presented food pairs were based on children's own ratings of taste and health so that some trials required self-control to choose the healthier option (i.e., healthy/not tasty paired with unhealthy/tasty). Children's body mass index (BMI) percentile was not associated with number of healthy choices. To examine mouse trajectories, we replicated previous analytic techniques and applied a novel technique, time-varying effects modeling (TVEM). Results showed that desire to eat impacted food decision-making sooner than taste and health during trials that required self-control, with TVEM showing that early discounting of desire to eat enabled healthier choices. However, these temporal dynamics varied by age, BMI percentile, and overall self-control performance in the task. When the less healthy food was chosen (i.e., self-control failure), older children and children with better overall self-control were more influenced by taste and desire to eat. However, children with higher BMI percentiles showed stronger discounting (i.e., negative influence) of taste when choosing the healthier food. Together this highlights how the influence of hedonic food attributes on food decision-making varies by individual child-level characteristics. Understanding individual differences in the cognitive processes that support healthy food choices in children may help identify targets for interventions aimed at improving child nutrition

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number112990
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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