Craving for unhealthy food can drive us to pay disproportionately more for it, by boosting the value of tempting, unhealthy snacks, a study has found. Experiments showed a connection between craving, portion and price. People were willing to pay disproportionately more for higher portion sizes of the craved items.

“It appears that craving boosts or multiplies the economic value of the craved food,” said Anna Konova, a postdoctoral researcher in New York University. There is growing interest across several sectors in understanding how our psychological states and physiological needs affect our behaviour as consumers.

Of particular concern is craving, which has long been recognised as a state of mind that contributes to addiction and, in recent years, to eating disorders and obesity.

“Our results indicate that even if people strive to eat healthier, craving could overshadow the importance of health by boosting the value of tempting, unhealthy foods relative to healthier options,” said Konova, lead author of the study published in the journal PNAS. “Craving, which is pervasive in daily life, may nudge our choices in very specific ways that help us acquire those things that made us feel good in the past – even if those things may not be consistent with our current health goals,” Konova said.

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