Indulging in guilty pleasures due to stress may not be as satisfying as the same treat taken just for pleasure without stress, found a new study.
Lead author Eva Pool, MS, a doctoral student at the University of Geneva said that most people experience stress that increases craving for rewarding experiences, such as eating a tasty bar of chocolate, and though it could make one invest considerable effort in obtaining the object of our desire, it does not necessarily increase the enjoyment we experience.
According to the study, stress prompted chocolate lovers in an experiment to exert three times as much effort to smell chocolate than unstressed chocolate lovers, but both groups reported about the same level of enjoyment when they got a whiff of the pleasing aroma.
For the experiment, researchers recruited 36 university students, of whom 19 were men, who said they love chocolate. To induce stress, the researchers asked students to keep one hand in ice-cold water while being observed and videotaped. Another group immersed a hand in lukewarm water. Ten minutes before and 30 minutes after the task, researchers collected samples of the participants' saliva and tested them for levels of cortisol, a hormone involved in stress response. Following the stress conditioning, all participants had to press a handgrip for the chance to smell chocolate when they saw a certain symbol. The researchers measured the amount of effort participants invested for a chance to smell the chocolate, and asked participants how pleasant they found the odor.
The study is published in APA's Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition.