Neural correlates of top-down guidance of attention to food: an fMRI study

Maartje S. Spetter, Suzanne Higgs, Dirk Dolmans, Jason M. Thomas, Renate L.e.p. Reniers, Pia Rotshtein, Femke Rutters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We investigated the neural correlates of working memory guided attentional selection of food versus non-food stimuli in young women. Participants were thirty-two women, aged 20.6y (± 0.5) who were presented with a cue (food or non-food item) to hold in working memory. Subsequently, they had to search for a target in a 2-item display where target and distractor stimuli were each flanked by a picture of a food or a non-food item. The behavioural data showed that attention is particularly efficiently drawn to food stimuli when thinking about food. Using fMRI, we found that holding a non-food versus food stimulus in working memory was associated with increased activity in occipital gyrus, fusiform, inferior and superior frontal gyrus. In the posterior cingulum, retrosplenial cortex, a food item that re-appeared in the search array when it was held in memory led to a reduced response, compared to when it did not re-appear. The reverse effect was found for non-food stimuli. The extent of the reappearance effect correlated with the attentional capture of food as measured behaviourally. In conclusion, these results suggest that holding food in mind may bias attention because thinking of food facilitated neuronal responses to sensory input related to food stimuli and because holding food-related information in mind is less taxing on memory.
Original languageEnglish
Article number113085
JournalPhysiology & Behavior
Early online date18 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2020

Bibliographical note

© 2020, Elsevier. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International


  • Attention
  • Food
  • Memory
  • Neural correlates
  • fMRI


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