Browsing Category Psychology

Food Porn: The Phenomenon of Eating in Cyberspace

If you’ve ever groaned out loud at the sight of a gooey chocolate chip cookie on your Instagram feed, or stopped yourself from licking your phone screen as a Buzzfeed Tasty chef demonstrated a cheese-pull, you’ve experienced food porn. I began to reflect as I scrolled through expertly crafted food porn on social media while eating my daily bowl of air-fried, salt and peppered vegetables (occasionally I’ll add garlic salt to mix things up), and I started to wonder why I love looking at food online if I’m not going to actually eat it.

Besides the term “food porn” being a marketing strategy by advertisers to play on the theory that “sex sells,” there is evidence that mouth-watering images of food may have sexual connotations. The way these food advertisements are directed using extreme close ups, slow moving cameras, and photoshop is similar to actual porn. In a more abstract sense, Professor Tisha Dejmanee, an assistant professor of communication at Central Michigan University who’s published numerous research papers on gender and digital media, likens the “oozing” of pictured food to the sexualization of the female body (full article here.) And fMRI studies have shown that pleasure sensations from food and sex occur in the same regions of the brain (orbitofrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens,) and with similar patterns of activity.

Although we might process pleasure from sex and food similarly, the result and goals of food porn versus actual porn are very different. As award-winning chef William Goldfarb puts it, “the Food Network makes food look pretty so that consumers will go out and buy a blender, but you don’t watch porn to buy the mattress on which the actors are having sex. Sex is not consumable in the same way. Where porn is a substitute for the real thing, food television is not a substitute for food.” 

But could it be?

Dr. Anna Lavis proposed the phenomenon of “eating in cyberspace” in her exploration of food porn on pro-anorexia websites, and this type of consumption is backed by other scientific studies. Eating might not have to involve physically putting food into your mouth, but can be defined by the feeling of having eaten, which can be produced by looking at pictures of food.

Dr. Jeffrey Larson and other professors at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management investigated this phenomenon by having half of their subjects look at pictures of salty snacks and the other half look at desserts, and then gave both groups peanuts to eat (full study here). Those who looked at pictures of salty snacks enjoyed the peanuts less than those who saw desserts, and subjects who were shown 60 salty snack images also enjoyed the peanuts less than those who saw only 20 pictures. Looking at food porn seems to induce sensory boredom so when eating a similar food after, you enjoy it less. 

This proposed satiation effect of food porn could be negatively affecting individuals who do not need to be suppressing their food intake. People suffering from anorexia nervosa told Dr. Lavis that they’ve used and shared food porn on pro-anorexia websites to satisfy their cravings, further perpetuating their illness. 

But food porn could work to the advantage of obese individuals who may be able to use it as a tool for weight loss. In one study conducted by Dr. Olivia Petit at the Imagineering Institute in Malaysia, obese subjects were shown pictures of healthy foods in an fMRI scanner and reported whether or not they would be willing to eat that food at the end of the experiment. When subjects focused on the fact that the food was healthy, the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) region of the brain, responsible for self control, was activated, and they made significantly healthier choices. That being the case, obese individuals may benefit from looking at health-focused food porn because those food pictures may cause them to make healthier choices.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the opposite effects were found with pictures of unhealthy food in the same study. There was an increase in activity in the reward center of the brain (OFC), but a decrease in the connectivity of this area to the self control region (IFG) in the obese subjects. The pleasure sensation from looking at unhealthy food pictures outweighed their self control, causing them to make unhealthy choices. Therefore, obese individuals exposing themselves to unhealthy food porn on social media and the Internet are at far greater risk of further weight gain.

Food porn affects all of us physiologically, and tech companies and social media platforms have taken advantage of the fact that imagining eating food can create similar bodily responses to actual consumption. Researchers at the University of Tokyo developed the technology MetaCookie+, a piece of not exactly subtle headgear (see this video) that uses virtual reality to allow users to taste the same food differently without changing the food itself. The MetaCookie+ cookies are recognized by the headset, which shows a visual of a certain flavor of cookie onto the tangible cookie itself, accompanied by the smell associated with that flavor, creating taste perception. A sugar cookie to someone wearing the headset could look, smell, and taste like a chocolate-coated cookie. The same cookie can take on an array of flavors. Knowing that, imagine the future implications for any kid (or adult) who refuses to eat vegetables. For me, anything green used to instantly be deemed inedible.

Metacookie+ isn’t the only company that has delved into the fact that society’s interest in food isn’t limited to the tangible and even the visual. The Japanese company Scentee has turned multisensory food experience into a small plug-in accessory for your smartphone that sprays a fragrance of your choice every time you receive a notification, with possibilities including fried corn soup fritters from KFC Japan and a Korean BBQ collection. This technology is available for gamers to link certain actions during gameplay, so it seems like Scentee could merge images of food on social media with their fragrances in the future.


Social Media

Besides those tech-savvy individuals who have had access to products from MetaCookie+ or Scentee, food porn reaches a diverse and wide audience through social media. Unlike the research articles cited earlier, the sample size of social media food porn includes people on a vast spectrum of health and wellness practices. Even for those who are reasonably healthy, being overstimulated by food porn is bound to impact the way you eat and perceive food. 

From cooking tutorials to food bloggers to restaurant promotions, food porn thrives on social media, with #food having roughly an average of 3.2M views per hour on Twitter. A survey by Bolthouse Farms found that 66% of food related hashtags on Twitter and Instagram were attached to unhealthy foods, which, as deduced from the fMRI study mentioned earlier, is likely inducing unhealthy food craving and consumption in real life.

Despite that, there are also a lot of food bloggers who focus on healthy eating. From the research, healthy food porn doesn’t seem to induce as much of a craving for tangible food compared to unhealthy food, but may instead lead to misinformation and an obsession with clean eating

While most foodies are probably well-intentioned, whether indulgent or otherwise, there are so many problems with how food is portrayed on social media. A systematic review of studies concerning social media concluded that social media engagement of healthy young adults is correlated with higher body dissatisfaction, dieting/restricting food, and overeating (full article here). The influencers who showcase an array of decadent, high calorie foods could be contributing to overeating in social media users. These unhealthy foodies, who look reasonably fit and healthy, are most likely keeping up with an intense exercise regime and/or are simply not eating all of the food they photograph. But when all the follower sees is the influencer posting about unhealthy foods daily, they’re led to a flawed perception of the amount of indulgence that’s healthy. Taking that into consideration, it’s understandable how this propaganda can lead to overeating and body dissatisfaction.

Even the influencers who are promoting healthy eating habits and intuitive eating can have negative effects on the health and wellness of their viewers by promoting obsession with clean eating and food in general. Unhealthy fad diets were more popular in the early 2000s than they are now, and even though modern food influencers might be focusing on healthier eating practices such as intuitive eating (which we’ll come back to later), they’re still providing fuel for the mental turmoil of a preoccupation with clean eating simply by posting pictures of healthy foods. As Professor Tisha Dejmanee argues,”the rhetoric around eating and body image has shifted from dieting to health and from slenderness to fitness, so have the prevalent pathologies of eating transformed from restriction-centered anorexia and bulimia to consumption-centered binge-eating disorder and orthorexia.” 

The collective perspective has been changing from feeling the need to eat significantly less and lose weight, to feeling pressure to eat and think about food more. Orthorexia is classified as an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating, and has been noted by nutritionists as a recent increasing trend, although it’s still absent from the DSM. This eating disorder isn’t just having the desire to eat healthy but is characterized by that desire pervading and interfering with everyday life. It’s when patients will avoid situations where they can’t control what they’re eating, limit eating in front of other people, and have anxiety about foods they perceive as “bad” (e.g. sugar and carbohydrates). They tend to think about these indulgences as foods to totally “cut out” of their diet, rather than ones to limit. Such black and white thinking can ultimately lead to binge eating when these individuals give in to their cravings. 

But how does this relate to food porn?

Registered dietitian Renee McGregor says that social media can contribute to orthorexia-related thinking by promoting misinformation and marking people’s eating and wellness practices as their identity. Many food influencers are self made, with no background in nutritional science, and some of them haven’t graduated from high school or college. The health tips and tricks these influencers are giving could be spreading false information to followers, even if it’s unintentional. A recent study looked at 10 of the UK’s biggest health social media influencers, each with at least 80k followers, and found that 9 out of 10 of them gave inaccurate health information. It’s worth noting that influencers who are that famous on social media are able to make money by posting sponsored content and promoting certain products, which could be skewing the health information they’re putting out.

These Instagram accounts are totally dedicated to food, health, and wellness, and it makes the account owner’s identity seem to revolve around what they consume. This mindset of associating identity with food overstates its importance in our own lives – of course we have to eat to survive but what you eat on a day-to-day basis does not define you. Healthy eating can look different for everyone, and focusing on meeting an unrealistic standard from social media food porn can lead to obsession and unhealthy habits. 

Even after learning all of this information about food porn, I’m still working on fixing my own relationship with food and limiting my virtual intake on social media. After my school sent us home because of COVID-19, I started thinking way too much about food. This was definitely precipitated by no access to my usual gym and the pressure I put on myself to maintain my grades. Eating was one of the only things I felt I had control over, so I controlled it to the maximum extent that I could. I would constantly plan when and what I was going to eat that day, and I would hate being in situations where I couldn’t choose what I ate. It got to the point where I broke down crying when I found out my sisters were making homemade pasta for dinner, because I hated the idea of simple carbs sitting in my stomach.

I knew subconsciously that eating pasta one night wouldn’t do anything to my body, but the added stressors I was experiencing made my emotions supersede my judgment.

From this research, I’ve realized that my perception of what’s healthy has been strongly influenced by the food accounts I follow. A lot of the health-focused accounts I’ve looked at tend to post foods with gluten-free alternatives, which gave me the perception that gluten and bread products are unhealthy, would make me gain weight, and that I shouldn’t eat them at all. Once I actually researched, I found that gluten isn’t bad for you. It’s not really adding anything to your diet – gluten is a protein that’s present in such small quantities in food that it doesn’t have much of a nutritional effect on your diet at all. The explosion of the gluten-free trend has been fueled by social media with little scientific evidence, and the reason gluten-free diets have made some people lose weight is probably because it involves cutting out many processed and unhealthy foods. According to Dr. Robert Shmerling at Harvard University, gluten-free substitutes have less nutrients like folic acid, vitamin B, and fiber than the equivalents with gluten, and they’re higher in sugar and fats. Like with the gluten-free trend, social media can promote unsubstantiated beliefs and anecdotes about food as facts, and makes it easy to get sucked into false information. 

The bottom line about food porn on social media and how it’s affecting us is wrapped up neatly in a statement by Professor Dejmanee. She says that ‘food porn’ represents a false liberation, celebrating these contemporary consumption disorders while doing little to challenge the overwhelmingly rigid standards to which [our] bodies continue to be held.” With high definition lighting and elegant camera angles, food porn has created the sensation of eating in cyberspace that can provoke satiation or increased cravings, depending on the type of food one gazes upon. However the underlying long-term negatives of food porn such as perpetuating anorexia and orthorexia, spreading false nutrition information, and creating unrealistic ideals of food and body image can outweigh the immediate visual appeal.

Since food porn has pervaded the Internet so extensively, it’s pretty hard to avoid it even if you tried. While there’s some marketing on social media that’s out of our control, a lot of what we see depends on who we choose to follow. It was hard for me to acknowledge that these accounts were contributing to my negative outlook on food. After all, we eat and watch others eat all the time in real life – how could the digital form have such worrisome implications? 

The idea of social media posts encompassing one’s identity, as McGregor introduced, seems pretty straight-forward – we have the collective understanding that everyone who runs their own account is in charge of posting their own content, and is therefore associated with that material. Even so, social media as a concept is a vehicle for marketing: marketing what you look like, your ideals, and sometimes, what you eat. Our social media presence has become so intertwined with who we are as people that it’s difficult to separate ourselves from it. It’s no wonder then that we fail to distinguish someone’s food post from their actual persona, leading us to subconsciously obsess over food, similar to how social media stimulates obsession with physical appearance. 

Since I’ve started writing this article, I’ve unfollowed all food accounts on my feed and started working on eating intuitively, which means listening to what food my body wants to eat, only eating when I’m actually hungry, and stopping when I’m full. Intuitive eating is a practice that dieticians teach to orthorexia patients to promote a healthier body image and change their outlook on food. Even for the general population it can lower BMI, improve self esteem, lower the risk of developing an eating disorder, and intuitive eating programs have high retention rates, meaning that people are likely to stick with them.

There’s a lot of things I still have to work on with intuitive eating. But for the record, since I’ve started writing this article, I gradually re-introduced pasta into my diet. Now I eat it about once a week and enjoy every second of it. 

While it’s easy to mindlessly scroll through social media, it’s definitely worth considering what your eyes have to feast on. Our brains are constantly saving and processing information, and the things we see or read make lasting impressions on us whether we know it in the moment or not, especially when it’s related to something as essential and celebrated as food. Although food porn can be satisfying in the moment, the image lasts longer due to the imprint it leaves behind. My advice is to be a little bit more intentional, and take an extra second to think about the accounts you’re following and if they’re enhancing or inhibiting your mental health, especially right now when our physical interaction is at a low and social media use at a high.

Now that you know how food porn affects your brain and influences your eating behavior, how will you change how you navigate the virtual world saturated in it?


A Deeper Look Into Intravenous Ketamine Infusions For Treating Depression


As depression is on the rise, there is a race to discover an optimum treatment that is best suited for those affected. One such treatment that is yet to gain FDA approval for its use in treating depression is intravenous ketamine infusion.

Over the years, more and more people are turning to intravenous ketamine infusion due to its immediate relieving effects, but there has been much debate on whether this is an effective form of treatment.

Ketamine, an NMDA receptor antagonist, mainly functions as a general anesthetic. The NMDA or N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor is a glutamate receptor important in the function of memory as well as regulating synaptic plasticity. It plays a role in regulating the neurotransmission of glutamate in the brain. When this function is disrupted, depressive symptoms may arise. Ketamine blocks the NMDA receptor, which can help to counteract this disruption. This may produce some side effects in the form of vivid dreams and possibly a dissociative effect.

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How Baby Diapers Will Change How We Study the Brain

There was a sudden pounding in my chest, blood rushing to my head, and sense that life suddenly seemed unreal. I did not know what was happening, but somehow, instantaneously, panic had consumed me. I was eight years old, sitting in my third grade classroom, listening along as my favorite teacher was reading us a story.

I interrupted her mid-sentence, which was uncharacteristic of the shy girl I was at that age, and yelled out, “I have to use the bathroom!” I will never forget the startled look on her face as she granted me permission. I rushed out of the classroom, took a sip from the water fountain, and washed my hands, doing anything that could make me feel normal again. I regained composure and returned to my seat within minutes, utterly frightened and bewildered with what had just happened to me, and embarrassed to have drawn attention to myself.

I associated this experience with medical causality, and kept telling my eight-year-old self I was suffering from a gastric related disease or perhaps there was a tumor growing in my brain. Instead of accurately describing what had happened, which was a


I told my parents I had had a bad stomach ache that day. I could not articulate the foreign, sharp stab of fear I felt in my belly. For years thereafter, I suffered infrequent, random panic attacks and was still unable to articulate what I was struggling with, instead describing these episodes in terms of somatic (bodily) symptoms rather than psychological ones. Thanks to researchers, doctors and psychologists, we have made a dent in discovering neural mechanisms that are responsible for our physiological sensations or behaviors.

What I initially thought to be a somatic medical condition was what I eventually learned to be a product of my brain’s over-excited flight-or-fight activation response. But why did this happen to me?

Doctors still do not quite have a perfect answer. There is yet much to be learned about pathways in the brain and how they affect our mind and body. The brain is made up of nanoscopic particles called biomolecules, and these molecules make up the cells of the brain, called neurons. These neurons communicate with one another via electrical currents that create synapses, and when these synapses misfire, disease can transpire. MRI scans and microscopes can only allow us to see either large regions of the brain affected, or the microscopic level of neural activity. Because there are billions of neurons and subsequent connections, there is great difficulty in pinpointing specific patterns of molecular activity that cause brain disorders due to the sheer magnitude of neurons and infinitesimal nature of the brain.

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Information Overload: Overexposure to the News Can Hurt Your Mental Health

Welcome to the information age, where answers to your questions are a click away and borderline instantaneous. Technology has brought civilization to a plane of unprecedented knowledge, leaving scholars wondering about the multidimensional ways in which it continues to impact humanity. As people communicate with one another at the speed of light, one trend you yourself may observe is a sense of information overload.

If you’re reading this, then it’s a safe bet that you’re active on some form of social media, and if you’re on social media, it’s not a stretch to assume that your news feed is perpetually updated with breaking stories and comment threads featuring people at each others’ throats.

Never forget the old saying, “If it bleeds, it leads.” This mantra has offered direction for dominating news outlets in their quest for views and ratings across time, and it isn’t showing any signs of slowing. Skewing public perception towards the most tantalizing headlines, it may seem that trending topics are nothing more than a relentless string of bad news. You’re apt to see an overabundance of horrors plaguing the world before long. There’s no doubt that tragedies occur on-the-regular, but it is important not to forget that so does beneficence.

The good news is the human race has never been as interconnected as it is now. The bad news is the human race has never been as interconnected as it is now.

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What is therapy and is therapy for me? 

Happy woman talking in front of group during psychotherapy group therapy

Therapy is misunderstood. For the uninformed it brings about negative thoughts while others can acknowledge it’s ability to heal and transform. Despite the modernity of our society, many people still believe that “only crazy people go to therapy.” That statements could not be any more false or ancient. The best way to look at it, is as a tool. It  can help people live happy and fulfilling lives but not without the work and effort invested. Therapy does not come in just one mold. There is a spectrum of therapies that can suit a variety of people.

One of the most common types of therapy is counseling.

This is usually for people who are healthy on a day-to-day basis but need help with a crisis, anger, bereavement, or just need help getting through something. Sessions are usually 45 minutes to an hour long.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a great therapy if you want to think more positively and change maladaptive thoughts and behaviors. CBT can be used for all the same things as counseling but it has also been shown to be very helpful in helping anxiety, depression, phobias and more. In psychotherapy, therapists like to look at past influences and relate them to current situations. They do this in order to help you figure out what is causing the problem and how the choices you make influence the present. This type of therapy tends to be helpful for those who have long-term and recurring problems. There’s some evidence that psychotherapy can help depression and some eating disorders.

Relationship counseling or couples therapy can help couples who are going through a difficult time. It is best if both partners attend for best results. Sessions are also about an hour long.

Group therapy is a setting that can be good for someone who thinks they would benefit from additional support of others who can empathize with their problems. In group therapy, up to 12 people with a common problem meet with a therapist and everyone takes a turn in expressing their thoughts.

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How the hustle and bustle of big city living compromises your happiness

city living in Romania

Can cities compromise our happiness?

As someone who was born and raised in a relatively small, quiet town, I was overwhelmed by the noisy, populated vastness of Chicago when I began college. I would jump every time I heard a car honking outside my dorm, and shivers would run down my spine at each wailing ambulance. I would look both ways ten times before crossing a street, and always felt anxious to take public transportation. While I was enthralled to be in a beautiful city, it took time for me to adjust to the hustle and bustle of city living. Three years later, I can say I am well adjusted, but at what cost?

Studies have shown that city living can negatively affect a person psychologically; resulting in increased levels of stress, lower immune systems, and higher rates of mood disorders.

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Oxytocin: What makes pets so awesome, hugs so good and love so magical

Oxytocin, a neuropeptide produced in the brain’s hypothalamus, has gained popularity as the “love hormone.”

But NY Times sheds light upon “The Dark Side of Oxytocin” and Gizmodo calls it “The Most Amazing Molecule in the World”—so it’s apparent that there are many shades of oxytocin. This chemical evidently helps newborns bond with their mothers and is released when snuggling with our partners or pets, but have you heard that it’s responsible for much more of our behavior than once thought? It is natural for emotions to accompany our behaviors, and scientists have found that these emotions activate the release of peptides like oxytocin into our bodies. Thus, our behaviors and emotions are inextricably connected. As Dr. Candice Pert explains, “the chemicals that are running our body and our brain are the same chemicals that are involved in emotion,” so it follows that our actions (a.k.a. “behaviors”) are reinforced by oxytocin, and vice versa. Which means oxytocin is responsible for reinforcing negative behaviors as well positive, like cuddling. So is oxytocin good or bad?

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Validation is an important social lubricant

When you think of validation, you might think that it involves simply agreeing with the other person no matter what but..

That would be a misunderstanding of what validation is, when in reality, to validate someone is to acknowledge them (their thoughts, emotions, and behavior) as legitimate and worthy of attention, even if you don’t necessarily agree with them. Validation is important because, in any relationship, it’s important to treat the other person as an equal. To treat others as equal involves understanding and valuing them as much as you do yourself. Consequently, invalidation involves not treating a person with the legitimacy and attention they deserve, and to ignore them or otherwise belittle their experience to the point where they feel alienated. Keep in mind that this also applies to one’s own self, as one can self-validate or self-invalidate. One should be aware of the different aspects involved in validation and invalidation, as they aren’t always self-explanatory.

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If you have an average IQ you might be smarter than you think

The concept of emotional intelligence (EI) refers to a person’s ability to not only acknowledge and effectively (or affectively, to be even more appropriate) manage their emotional disposition but to also recognize the emotions being exhibited by others.

It is a mode of intelligence which is often overlooked since academics is primarily focused on fostering more intellectual forms of cognitive prowess. Moods, feelings, and emotions are often regarded as the “soft” side of differences amongst people, but with such a label, it is too common to underestimate their value. Possessing the ability to tune into these cues not only within you but also in others, can offer many advantages in regulating your own behavior and managing interactions with others.

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The Personality Disorders, Part 2

There are many kinds of personalities, a concept that is closely studied in the field of psychology.

One particular subject is very well-known, even among non-psychologists, namely, the personality disorders. Personality disorders are mental problems that cause the afflicted to act in ways that go beyond the societal norm. There are ten agreed-upon personality disorders, split into three clusters based on the similarities of the disorders within each cluster. This segment will deal with the anxious type of personality disorders: avoidant, dependent, and obsessive-compulsive disorders.

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