Proceedings of the Nutrition Society

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The physiological-psychological dichotomy in the study of food intake

Marion M. Hetheringtona1

a1 Department of Psychology, University of Liverpool, Eleanor Rathbone Building, Liverpool L69 7ZA, UK

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Hetherington MM [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]


Human food intake is driven by necessity. We eat to live, but as Brillat-Savarin and others have noted throughout history, in affluent societies eating is a pleasure and becomes more than a means to an end.Eating signifies lifestyle choice and it has considerable meaning in our society beyond the acquisition of essential energy and nutrients. Thus, it is that the study of human food intake, particularly food choice, in contrast to food intake in other animals, tends to be skewed towards measures of behavioural, social and environmental influences rather than on precise physiological processes reflecting metabolism and nutrient partitioning. The dichotomy between physiological and psychological measures is a false one, since all behaviours are necessarily expressed through physiological systems. However, in the field of human food intake research the dichotomy refers to the divergent strands of interest in either psychological or physiological processes underlying intake and appetite. The present review considers both psychological and physiological measures in promoting our understanding of the human appetite system. The overall conclusion is that the burgeoning interest in identifying appetite suppressant drugs to combat obesity and in genotyping alongside behavioural phenotyping will close the gap between psychological and physiological perspectives on human food intake.

Key Words: Appetite; Food preference; Pleasure; Meal size; Methodology


c1 *Corresponding author: Professor Marion M. Hetherington, fax +44 151 794 2945, email