Stress may push people to drink or chocolate, but they’re not likely to enjoy the indulgence any more than someone who is not stressed, psychologists say.
“Most of us have experienced stress that increases our craving for rewarding experiences, such as eating a tasty bar of chocolate, and it can make us invest considerable effort in obtaining the object of our desire, such as running to a convenience store in the middle of the night,” says Eva Pool, a doctoral student at the University of Geneva.
“But while stress increases our desire to indulge in rewards, it does not necessarily increase the enjoyment we experience.”
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, according to a study, published in American Psychological Association‘s Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition.
Stress plays a critical role in many psychological disorders and is one of the most important factors determining relapses in addiction, gambling and binge eating
Tobias Brosch, also of the University of Geneva, says stress seems to flip a switch in our functioning.
“If a stressed person encounters an image or a sound associated with a pleasant object, this may drive them to invest an inordinate amount of effort to obtain it,” he says.
Research with laboratory rats supports the idea that wanting and liking rely on two distinct networks of neurons in the brain, according to the study.
The authors recommended further research to explore the effect of more intense everyday life stresses on human wanting and liking.
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