Reinforcement sensitivity and restrained eating: the moderating role of executive control

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Purpose As the prevalence of overweight and obesity are still increasing, it is important to help individuals who encounter difficulty with losing weight. The current study was set out to further investigate characteristics of individuals who are highly motivated to restrict their food intake to lose weight, but fail to do so (i.e., restrained eaters). The motivation to lose weight might stem from high punishment sensitivity, whereas the failure to succeed in restricting food intake might be the result of high reward sensitivity. Thus, it was examined whether restrained eaters are characterized by both high reward sensitivity and high punishment sensitivity. Additionally, this is the first study to examine executive control as a potential moderator of this relationship.

Methods Female undergraduates (N = 60) performed a behavioral measure of executive control, and completed the Restraint Scale to index level of restrained eating as well as two questionnaires on reinforcement sensitivity; the Behavioral Inhibition Scale/Behavioral Activation Scale, and the Sensitivity to Punishment and Sensitivity to Reward Questionnaire.

Results There was a positive relationship between restrained eating and punishment sensitivity as indexed by both questionnaires. Reward sensitivity as measured by both indices was not directly related to restrained eating. Executive control moderated the relation between reward responsivity (but not reward-drive) and restrained eating; specifically in women with relatively weak executive control there was a positive relationship between reward responsivity and restrained eating behavior.

Conclusion In women with low executive control, restrained eating is associated with both heightened sensitivity to punishment and heightened responsivity to reward.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)321-329
Number of pages9
JournalEating and Weight Disorders: Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity
Issue number3
Early online date25-Nov-2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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