Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Restrained eaters, those who chronically and severely restrict food intake in order to lose weight, are thought to exhibit thoughts and behaviors similar to those seen in semi-starved and eating disordered (bulimic and anorexic) individuals. A paradoxical tendency to overeat once food restraint is disinhibited has been noted in restrainers. Food and body weight preoccupation and hyperresponsiveness to external food cues have been hypothesized to occur in restrained individuals; however the literature reports conflicting results and these factors have not been thoroughly investigated. Cognitive factors which differentiate restrained eaters from nonrestrained eaters may affect information processing.

The purpose of this study was to assess whether evidence exists for attentional differences between fasting and sated normals and restrainers when viewing food and body image stimuli. Normal weight, female college undergraduates identified as restrainers or nonrestrainers by the Revised Restraint Scale (Herman et al., 1978) fasted for approximately five hours. Half of the restrainer and nonrestrainer subjects were then given a milkshake to eliminate physiological hunger and the other subjects remained fasting. All subjects completed a short questionnaire detailing their current physical state and the A-State scale (Speilberger et al., 1970), a measure of current anxiety levels. The eye movements of these subjects were recorded as they viewed a series of slides, some of which contained scenes with food or women of various body shapes. Dependent variables which assessed attentional preference and stimulus saliency were the percent, number and duration of fixations, total fixation time, and duration and number of fixations prior to focusing on critical items. Informativeness ratings of items in the six food and body image slides were obtained from a separate group of female undergraduates and used in the analyses.

The analyses did not support the predictions that fasting and restrainer subjects would show a preference in their attention toward food items nor that body image stimuli would be more salient to restrainers than nonrestrainers. Results indicated a significant preference for all experimental groups toward viewing body image stimuli versus food stimuli. Results further suggested a trend toward fasting nonrestrainer subjects' attention being drawn to food items more than other subject groups. Surprisingly, the restrainer group acknowledged a significantly higher level of anxiety than the nonrestrainer group.

Nonsignificant results regarding the relative saliency of food and body image stimuli to fasting subjects and restrainers were hypothesized to have occurred due to possible experimental and subject confounds. Additionally, perceptual defense and suppression processes were suggested as explanations for restrainers' disavowal of hunger and possible avoidance of food cues.

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