Research suggests that depictions of social groups can improve the processing of pronutritional media promoting healthy foods. Drawing on a framework of motivational processing, which regulates the automatic emotional and attentional responses to stimuli with adaptive significance to the organism (Cacioppo, Gardner, & Berntson, 1999; Compton, 2003; Ito, Cacioppo, & Lang, 1998), two mixed-factorial experiments examined how adolescents process pronutritional media depicting various social versus alone eating contexts. Based on motivational theories of information processing and emotional contagion, we predicted that pronutritional media depicting social eating contexts capture attention, emotion, and memory formation, indicative of appetitive motivational processing. Study 1 (N = 58; aged 12–18; 54% female) examined how the depicted social eating contexts improve the processing of pronutritional media by increasing their attentional selection, attentional processing, the emotional affect, and arousal responses to them. As the models' faces—which automatically attract priority processing—are oriented towards the foods in the social eating contexts, the pronutritional images depicting social eating contexts were predicted to attract greater attention and mental resources, and to further direct them to the foods. Study 2 (N = 165; aged 12–18; 53% female) investigated how the depicted social eating contexts further improve the processing of the healthy foods in the pronutritional media, by directing the visual attentional focus to the foods and attracting memory formation for them. Visual attentional focus was assessed through eye-tracking and memory was operationalized via visual recognition. As hypothesized, healthy foods became noticeable, highly-arousing, and memorable stimuli with adaptive significance to the organism when promoted through depictions of shared meals in social groups. The findings illustrate how healthy foods can be promoted more effectively through depictions of social eating contexts, and how the appetitive motivational processing explicates their greater effectiveness.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This study was enabled by a Radboud Excellence fellowship from Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands.
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