Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2017

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors



First Advisor

Angela Bryan

Second Advisor

Mark Whisman

Third Advisor

Alison Vigers


The obesity epidemic and the failure of existing dieting and exercise programs to combat it has pointed toward the importance of studying mechanisms behind eating habits. Previous research has suggested the significance of implicit biases on healthy eating behavior. This study created a single session Approach-Avoidance Task (AAT) training to further explore the potential of manipulating these implicit biases on eating behavior, and the liking and wanting of healthy and unhealthy food. 177 participants were assigned to approach healthy food, avoid healthy food, or a control condition. After the training, they gave ratings for their liking and wanting, and were presented with a food choice of apples, carrots, cookies, and chips. Quality of sleep was tested as a moderator of the effect of training on eating outcomes. It was hypothesized that: 1) Individuals trained to approach healthy food will develop a bias favoring the choice of a fruit or vegetable snack over chips or cookies, and 2) the training would be less effective for participants with worse sleep quality and more effective for those with better sleep quality. Trends in the data suggested that participants trained to approach healthy food had a decreased wanting for snack food and sweets. There was also a trend suggesting that participants with better sleep quality in the approach condition wanted unhealthy food the least. Results suggest the complexity of eating motivations and the importance of continued research on the role of unconscious processes and sleep in the context of eating behavior.