Food-related attentional bias and its associations with appetitive motivation and body weight: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Charlotte A. Hardman*, Andrew Jones, Sam Burton, Jay J. Duckworth, Lauren S. McGale, Bethan R. Mead, Carl A. Roberts, Matt Field, Jessica Werthmann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


Theoretical models suggest that food-related visual attentional bias (AB) may be related to appetitive motivational states and individual differences in body weight; however, findings in this area are equivocal. We conducted a systematic review and series of meta-analyses to determine if there is a positive association between food-related AB and: (1.) body mass index (BMI) (number of effect sizes (k) = 110), (2.) hunger (k = 98), (3.) subjective craving for food (k = 35), and (4.) food intake (k = 44). Food-related AB was robustly associated with craving (r = 0.134 (95% CI 0.061, 0.208); p <.001), food intake (r = 0.085 (95% CI 0.038, 0.132); p <.001), and hunger (r = 0.048 (95% CI 0.016, 0.079); p =.003), but these correlations were small. Food-related AB was unrelated to BMI (r = 0.008 (95% CI -0.020, 0.035); p =.583) and this result was not moderated by type of food stimuli, method of AB assessment, or the subcomponent of AB that was examined. Furthermore, in a between-groups analysis (k = 22) which directly compared participants with overweight/obesity to healthy-weight control groups, there was no evidence for an effect of weight status on food-related AB (Hedge's g = 0.104, (95% CI -0.050, 0.258); p =.186). Taken together, these findings suggest that food-related AB is sensitive to changes in the motivational value of food, but is unrelated to individual differences in body weight. Our findings question the traditional view of AB as a trait-like index of preoccupation with food and have implications for novel theoretical perspectives on the role of food AB in appetite control and obesity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104986
Early online date8 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2021


  • Appetite
  • Attentional bias
  • Body weight
  • Craving
  • Eating
  • Executive function
  • Hunger
  • Incentive value
  • Motivation


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