By Mark Prigg
PUBLISHED: 08:49 EST, 23 July 2012 | UPDATED: 08:49 EST, 23 July 2012
Researchers believe that the kind of ‘brain training’ exercises made popular by Nintendo’s handheld computer game could dramatically improve our health.
The researchers believe that snack consumption and weight are linked to both brain activity and self-control.
The team from the universities of Exeter, Cardiff, Bristol, and Bangor discovered that an individual’s brain ‘reward centre’ response has more of an effect on the amount they ate than their feelings of hunger or how much they wanted the food.
Experts say the study ‘adds to mounting evidence that over-eating and increased weight are linked, in part, to a region of the brain associated with motivation and reward.’
Academics at Exeter and Cardiff have already begun testing ‘brain training’ techniques to reduce the lure of food on individuals with low levels of self-control.
Similar tests are used to assist those with gambling or alcohol addiction.
Dr John Parkinson, senior lecturer at Bangor University’s School of Psychology said: ‘Our study has important implications for our understanding of how people become obese – and how they might also lose weight – issues that are really important to health.
‘Nobody chooses to become obese and what this research suggests is that our conscious minds are not actually driving over-eating.
‘Instead, enticing high-fat and high-sugar food images are getting direct access to our brain motivation systems and triggering over-eating behaviour.’
Dr Natalia Lawrence of the university of Exeter, lead researcher, said: ‘Our research suggests why some individuals are more likely to over-eat and put on weight than others when confronted with frequent images of snacks and treats.
‘Food images, such as those used in advertising, cause direct increases in activity in brain ‘reward areas’ in some individuals but not in others.
If those sensitive individuals also struggle with self-control, which may be partly innate, they are more likely to be overweight.
‘We are now developing computer programs that we hope will counteract the effects of this high sensitivity to food cues by training the brain to respond less positively to these cues.’
The study involved 25 young, healthy women. MRI scanning was used to detect their brain activity while they were shown images of household objects, and food that varied in desirability and calorific content.