Effects of emotional state and food novelty on preschool children's acceptance of food

TR Number
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Virginia Tech

Humans and other animals typically consume less of novel foods than of familiar ones, a phenomenon termed ingestional neophobia. Young children display especially high levels of neophobia, spitting out new foods but accepting those same foods after familiarization. Rejection of novel foods presumably reflects the aversiveness of the food's novel sensory cues, which thereby occasions withdrawal. Familiar foods typically evoke acceptance, suggesting that familiar foods are not categorically aversive. According to a biphasic model of emotion, negative affective behaviors (e.g., withdrawal) are enhanced during negative emotional states and inhibited during positive states. Positive affective behaviors (e.g., approach, consumption) are enhanced during positive emotional states but inhibited during negative states. If neophobia (withdrawal) and food acceptance (approach) reflect negative and positive affective behaviors respectively, according to the biphasic model, emotional state at the moment of food presentation should mediate the display of neophobia and food acceptance. To induce mood, preschool children were asked to think of things that make them happy (positive), sad (negative) or asked to count (neutral). Following mood-induction (MI), children received a familiar- or novel-appearing food. Acceptance was assessed as latency to touch the food, latency to Bite 1, latency to Bites 2-5, amount eaten, rate of eating, and degree of food contact. Acceptance was expected to be greater for the familiar- than for the novel-appearing food, and greater in the positive MI than in the neutral MI than in the negative MI condition. An interaction between food appearance and MI condition was expected. Results indicated that children who received a novel-appearing food ate reliably less and reliably slower than children who received the same food in its familiar appearance. There were no effects of MI condition. However manipulation checks indicated that MI procedures were ineffective. Participants were therefore reassigned to mood groups based on ratings of expressed affect. Analysis of reassigned groups indicated that the negative mood group took significantly longer to touch the food, to Bite 1, and to Bites 2-5 than did neutral and positive groups. The negative mood group ate reliably less than the neutral group, who ate reliably less than the positive group.