Wired for harsh food environments : Human spatial memory favours the effortless location and consumption of high-calorie foods

Vries, Rachelle de; Boesveldt, Sanne; Sotomayor Sainz, Alejandra; Copier, Joyce; Vet, Emely de


Human memory automatically prioritises locations of high-calorie foods, likely reflecting an adaptation for foraging in harsh ancestral food environments. We investigated whether this high-calorie bias in human spatial memory yields unhealthy obesogenic implications for individual eating behaviour in present-day food-abundant settings. In an online study, we tested the food spatial memory of a diverse sample of 405 individuals, as well as examined associations between the high-calorie spatial memory bias and the self-reported routine frequency of high-calorie snack consumption, exposure to high-calorie food environments, and BMI of a subset of 316 individuals. The high-calorie spatial memory bias was not directly associated with high-calorie snack consumption frequency or BMI. However, a greater expression of the bias indirectly predicted a higher BMI, by mediating a stronger habit of purchasing high-calorie snack foods. Although individuals from various sociodemographic groups expressed the high-calorie bias in spatial memory, our results suggest that those with a better inhibitory control to high-calorie foods were protected from bias-related tendencies to frequent high-calorie food environments (e.g. fast-food outlets).