As omnivores, young children learn to eat. This learning includes what to eat, when to eat, and even how much to eat. The research proposed continues to investigate the role of learning in food intake regulation during early childhood. This information is significant because it suggests ways in which experimental history contributes to the development of individual differences in intake regulation, including problems of energy balance, such as obesity and eating disorders. Results may also provide the basis of strategies for prevention of these problems of energy balance, which have proved so difficult to treat. Included are investigations of factors influencing (1) the acquisition and modification of food preferences, and (2) the initiation, maintenance, and termination of eating. As in the previously funded project, this research will focus on the role of associative conditioning. Evidence obtained in the previously funded research is the basis of this proposal, and indicates that (1) food preferences can be modified as a result of association with the social contexts in which eating occurs, (2) children can be sensitive to caloric density differences in foods and (3) children's eating patterns show evidence of associative conditioning of food cues to physiological consequences: internal physiological cues arising from ingestion of foods differing in caloric density can serve as USs in associative conditioning to food orosensory cues, which serve as CSs. Proposed experiments will address the following questions: 1) Can state dependent food preferences be conditioned through the repeated association of orosensory cues with differing caloric consequences, with children learning to prefer high caloric density foods to low caloric density ones when hungry, and showing a reverse pattern when satiated? 2) Does such conditioning occur more readily for novel than familiar foods? 3) Can the initiation of meals be conditioned to arbitrary external cues? 4) Can preferences for initially novel foods be altered through association with familiar flavorants? Preschool children's (2- to 5-year-olds) consumption and food preferences will be investigated in associative conditioning paradigms in which they receive repeated experience with eating.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Project (R01)
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Human Development and Aging Subcommittee 1 (HUD)
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University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
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United States
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