Attention and Eating Habits

A recent systematic review published in January 2018 looked at how attentional bias may play a role in some types of eating patterns.

Attentional bias is the tendency for a person to focus their attention on a specific stimuli over another- for example, people living with anxiety may find certain images distracting and have difficulty focusing their attention away from negative emotional cues. The three types of attentional bias that were studied in this article included facilitated attentional engagement, difficulty with attentional disengagement, and attentional avoidance.

The results of this research suggest that attentional bias in the presence of specific cues could be a strong contributor to binge eating behaviours. In this review subjects with binge eating disorder seem to have greater difficulty disengaging from food cues (especially highly palatable foods). Many of the women with binge eating disorder also showed greater facilitated attention toward food cues. Interestingly, the studies that sampled women who had recovered from their eating problems didn’t have this attentional bias. This might suggest that support in changing attention and focus of cues could be successful for changing certain types of eating behaviours. Further research on attentional bias is needed but this leaves an interesting question on the role of managing a person’s attention as a way of helping them change their eating behaviours.


  1. Stojek, M., Shank, L. M., Vannucci, A., Bongiorno, D. M., Nelson, E. E., Waters, A. J., . . . Tanofsky-Kraff, M. (2018). A systematic review of attentional biases in disorders involving binge eating. Appetite, 123, 367-389. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2018.01.019
  2. Samuel Hunley, Ph.D. (2016, September 26). What Is Attentional Bias? Retrieved from


Erin Martin & Ryan Stallard

Ryan Stallard