New Study Determines Future Sex and Food Cravings


Christie Margaris
Staff Writer

Photo by Ramon Rovirosa

In an age where technology is advancing more rapidly than ever before, it should hardly come as a shock that there is a way to determine how much weight you will gain and sex you will have in your lifetime.

According to a recent publication in The Journal of Neuroscience, a team of Dartmouth College scientists discovered how to conduct scans that will determine future weight gain and sexual activity. By using functional MRI scans, these scientists have found that a correlation exists between brain responses in the nucleus accumbens (in other words, the “reward center” of the brain) and erotic or appetizing images.

“This is one of the first studies in brain imaging that uses the responses observed in the scanner to predict important, real-world outcomes over a long period of time,” said Todd Heatherton, one of the professors involved in conducting the study.

The study was performed on a number of freshmen students at the university. During fMRI scans, they were shown various images of the environment, enticing foods, people and sensual images. The scans indicated how much each person responded to these images. Six months later, the students returned to fill in a questionnaire. Based on the results from the scan, scientists were able to determine participants’ future activities. For instance, they noticed that students who reacted strongly to erotic images ended up being more sexually active than other participants and vice versa. Sexual images were only used to predict future sexual activity, and were not indicators of weight gain.

According to William Kelley, associate professor of psychological and brain science, willpower is the key to controlling cravings and subsequent undesirable weight gain.

“We seek to understand situations in which people face temptations and try to not act on them. You need to be actively thinking about the behavior you want to control in order to regulate it. Self-regulation requires a lot of conscious effort,” said Kelley.

The study could be helpful in raising awareness about eating habits and other excessive behaviors. Dartmouth scientists are hoping that students who experienced an increase in weight gain will pay more attention to what and how often they are eating as a result of the study. The study aims to identify what specific thing triggers sex or food cravings. For example, the arrival of a dessert cart at a restaurant may serve as a catalyst for increased appetite.

Upon hearing of the Dartmouth study, several UCSB students weighed in on the matter:

“It sounds really cool. I think if I were to participate in one of these studies, I would definitely take something from the experience. Understanding which foods trigger my appetite can be useful; now I can avoid those foods altogether,” said fourth-year biology major Sandra Sanchez.

Others were skeptical of the study. According to third-year computer science major Jason Samuels, “I find it hard to believe this study could really be useful for its participants. So it tells me I really like burgers. That’s not news to me.”

At the end of the day, it is your own decision whether or not to indulge. The goal of this study is simply to point you in the right direction.