Researchers in the US last week revealed what they discovered as they aimed to get to the bottom of the allure of the mindless munching that often accompanies watching television or movies.
The problem, they say, comes down to association, and they've come up with a solution that doesn't involve shunning TV forever: simply eat with your nondominant hand.
"When we've repeatedly eaten a particular food in a particular environment, our brain comes to associate the food with that environment and makes us keep eating as long as those environmental cues are present," study researcher David Neal, a psychology professor at University of Southern California, said in a statement.
How to circumnavigate hard-wired desires to inhale a family-size bag of chips during The Apprentice? Reach for your snack with your nondominant hand, the researchers said.
In one experiment, scientists handed out popcorn to 98 moviegoers. Some participants received a bucket of fresh popcorn; others received "cold, wet, spongy, week-old" popcorn. Those who said they typically ate popcorn at the movies consumed about the same amount of popcorn whether it was fresh or stale. In a separate experiment, snackers who ate with their nondominant hand consumed less popcorn than those who ate with their dominant hand.
The findings were published in the current issue of the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
However, it's hard to underestimate the power of junk food cravings for some, and using your nondominant hand could require a bit of will power. After studying the brain activity of women presented with a chocolate milkshake, researchers from Yale University in the US recently found that seeing the tempting dessert drink activated the same parts of the brain as a drug addict who sees cocaine.