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Appetite is Curbed by Food Images

New research finds that repeatedly exposed to pictures of the same product can create a feeling of satiety.

Many of these food images are uploaded with the intention of promoting specific food products. The idea is that when we come across these images on Facebook or Instagram, for instance, they will ignite a craving for a McDonald’s burger or a similar item. In other words, the image triggers our hunger.

New research conducted by Aarhus University reveals that these images can actually produce the opposite effect, particularly when we are repeatedly exposed to pictures of the same product.

A series of experiments demonstrate that viewing the same image more than 30 times can create a feeling of satiety. Tjark Andersen, who recently completed his PhD at the Department of Food Science at Aarhus University, provides further insights on this phenomenon.


“In our experiments, it was observed that when the same food picture was viewed 30 times, a greater sense of satiety was reported by the participants compared to their initial state before viewing the picture. Furthermore, when asked about their desired portion size, those who were exposed to the picture multiple times tended to choose smaller portions compared to those who had seen the picture only three times,” he explains.

Inducing a feeling of fullness by tricking the brain

It may seem peculiar that the participants felt satiated despite not consuming any food. However, Tjark Andersen explains that this is actually quite natural. Our cognitive perception of food plays a significant role in regulating our appetite.

“The influence of cognitive perception on appetite is more substantial than most of us realize. How we think about our food holds great importance,” he says, continuing:

“Research has demonstrated that even if people have consumed their fill of red jelly beans, they will still desire the yellow ones if they become aware of their different colors, even though both colors taste exactly the same.”

These findings can be explained by the theory of grounded cognition within brain research. For instance, when you imagine biting into a juicy apple, the same brain areas are stimulated as if you were actually taking a bite.

“You can experience a physiological response to something you have only imagined. That’s why we can feel fully satisfied without consuming any food,” he explains.

A comprehensive online experiment

Tjark Andersen and his colleagues are not the first to discover that viewing food pictures can induce a sense of fullness. Previous research groups have also reported similar findings.

What sets the research conducted at Aarhus University apart is the examination of the number of repetitions required and the impact of image variation on the sense of satiety.

“We are aware from previous studies that different types of food images do not have the same effect on satiety. This is why individuals may feel full after the main course but still have room for dessert. Sweet foods are an entirely different category,” – he states.

To investigate whether image variation completely diminishes the sense of satiety, Tjark Andersen and his colleagues designed several online experiments, with over 1,000 participants taking part in their digital studies.

Initially, a picture of orange M&Ms was displayed. Some participants viewed the picture three times, while others saw it 30 times. The group that viewed the picture more frequently reported a greater sense of satiety afterwards, according to Tjark Andersen.

“They were asked to indicate the number of M&Ms they desired, ranging from 1 to 10. The group exposed to 30 images of orange chocolate buttons chose a smaller quantity compared to the other two groups.”

Subsequently, the experiment was repeated, this time using M&Ms of different colors. The colors did not influence the outcome.

Finally, the researchers substituted the M&Ms with Skittles, which have varying tastes based on their colors.

“If color didn’t play a role, it suggests that the imagined taste might be the factor. However, we did not find a significant effect here either. This implies that additional parameters beyond color and flavor need to be altered before an impact on satiety can be achieved,” – he explains.

Could be utilized as a weight loss strategy

Since 1975, the global prevalence of overweight individuals has tripled. The World Health Organization (WHO) identifies obesity as one of the major health challenges humans face. The primary reason for excessive weight gain is the consumption of excessive and unhealthy food, combined with insufficient physical activity.

This is where Tjark Andersen’s findings come into play. He suggests that they could be applied as a method to regulate appetite.

“Imagine developing an app based on a Google search. Let’s say you have a craving for pizza. You open the app, select pizza, and it displays numerous photos of pizza while you imagine eating it. This approach could potentially generate a sense of satiety and reduce the desire for pizza,” he suggests.

Perhaps these findings can be most effectively used to prevent the initiation of a meal. In the study, participants chose only slightly fewer Skittles or M&Ms, amounting to less than 50 calories.

“You won’t save many calories unless you completely avoid starting a meal. However, this method might be applicable in that context as well. It would be interesting to explore,” he notes.

Social media inundated with food-related content

Tjark Andersen and several other researchers are investigating the impact of food advertisements on social media, as we are constantly exposed to enticing food content.

A few years ago, an American research group examined the average number of food-related advertisements encountered on social media by monitoring a group of young individuals and analyzing the content they encountered.

On average, the young participants encountered 6.1 food-related posts within a 12-hour period. The majority of these posts consisted of food pictures, with over a third dedicated to desserts or other sweet treats.

The internet, particularly social media, can contribute to the growing problem of overweight individuals. However, it may also hold the potential for solutions.

Only time will tell.


By repeatedly viewing images of the same food item, a feeling of fullness can be induced. In a recent study, it was discovered that participants who viewed the food picture 30 times subsequently opted for smaller portion sizes compared to those who were exposed to the image only three times.

The research is grounded in the theory of grounded cognition, highlighting the significant influence of our cognitive perception on appetite. The findings have the potential to shape future weight management strategies.

Key Facts

  • The act of repeatedly viewing images of the same food can elicit sensations of fullness.
  • Our cognitive perception, i.e., how we perceive food, plays a pivotal role in determining appetite.
  • This research has the potential to contribute to weight loss strategies by harnessing the power of repetitive food imagery.


Imagined eating – An investigation of priming and sensory-specific satiety

While obesity remains a pressing issue, the wider population continues to be exposed to more digital food content than ever before.

Much research has demonstrated the priming effect of visual food content, i.e., exposure to food cues increasing appetite and food intake.

In contrast, some recent research points out that repeated imagined consumption can facilitate satiate and decrease food intake. Such findings have been suggested as potential remedies to excessive food cue exposure.

However, the practically limitless variety of digital food content available today may undermine satiation attempts. The present work aims to replicate and extend prior findings by introducing a within-subjects baseline comparison, disentangling general and (sensory-) specific eating desires, as well as considering the moderating influence of visual and flavour stimulus variety.

Three online studies (n = 1149 total) manipulated food colour and flavour variety and reproducibly revealed a non-linear dose-response pattern of imagined eating: 3 repetitions primed, while 30 repetitions satiated.

Priming appeared to be specific to the taste of the exposed stimulus, and satiation, contrary to prior literature, appeared to be more general. Neither colour nor flavour variety reliably moderated any of the responses.

Therefore, the results suggest that a more pronounced variety may be required to alter imagery-induced satiation.

Imagined eating – An investigation of priming and sensory-specific satiety” by Tjark Andersen et al. Appetite