Although stress causes a huge increase in people’s desire for an indulgence, like chocolate, ironically it does not increase the pleasure obtained, a new study finds.
People under stress, researchers found, made three times as much effort to just smell some chocolate, compared with other chocolate-lovers who weren’t under stress.
Eva Pool, the study’s lead author, said:
“Most of us have experienced stress that increases our craving for rewarding experiences, such as eating a tasty bar of chocolate, and it can make us invest considerable effort in obtaining the object of our desire, such as running to a convenience store in the middle of the night.
But while stress increases our desire to indulge in rewards, it does not necessarily increase the enjoyment we experience.”
The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition, had some people hold their hand in ice-water while they were watched and videotaped (Pool et al., 2014).
This served to stress them out in comparison to another group who simply put their hand in lukewarm water.
Both groups, all of whom were chocolate-lovers, were then asked to a squeeze a handgrip for the chance to smell some chocolate.
The group who were under stress squeezed harder on the handgrip, suggesting they wanted the chocolate more than the other group.
However, stress didn’t make people rate the smell of the chocolate any higher.
Dr Tobias Brosch, another of the study’s authors, said:
“Stress plays a critical role in many psychological disorders and is one of the most important factors determining relapses in addiction, gambling and binge eating.
Stress seems to flip a switch in our functioning: If a stressed person encounters an image or a sound associated with a pleasant object, this may drive them to invest an inordinate amount of effort to obtain it.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
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