Obesity expert Leonard H. Epstein, PhD, SUNY Distinguished Professor in the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, who was senior author on the research, said that many people have difficulty resisting the impulse for immediate gratification and instead did something called delay discounting, in which they discounted future rewards in favour of smaller, immediate rewards.
This tendency is associated with greater consumption of highly caloric, ready-to-eat foods. It has been speculated that if people could modify delay discounting, they would be more successful at losing weight.
The researchers evaluated how much delay discounting participants engaged in using a hypothetical test that promised different amounts of money available either now or in the future. While the amount available in the future remained 100 dollars, the amount available immediately decreased during each test, eventually falling as low as 1 dollar.
Participants were then asked to think about future events that would occur during the time periods involved in the monetary test. So if they were choosing between 95 dollars now and 100 dollars in six months, they would be instructed to think about the most vivid event that would be happening to them six months from now, for example, a birthday party.
A control group was asked, instead, to think during the monetary test of vivid scenes from a Pinocchio story they had read.
The UB researchers found that those who engaged in the future thinking exercise were able to reduce delay discounting and that there were few differences between the lean and the overweight and obese women.
The study has been published in journal Appetite.