Neurophysiological Variations in Food Decision-Making within Virtual and Real Environments


Simple lifestyle changes such as improving one’s diet and getting sufficient exercise could significantly reduce the risk of developing obesity and related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer. However, changing eating behavior is challenging because eating is a part of the human behavior system. This paper introduces a pilot study that examined the multifactorial neurophysiological correlates of food decision-making behavior, with potential implications for the development of effective treatments for individuals with dysfunctional eating. The experimental protocol was designed in a virtual reality (VR) and real-life (RL) buffet setting. Eleven participants (aged 18-25 years; Mean = 20.45, SD = 2.30) were recruited and equipped with various body sensors (e.g., prefrontal cortex functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), electrocardiography (ECG), galvanic skin response (GSR), eye movement and body motion) to capture their neurological and physiological data as they were making food selections. In this exploratory study, we aimed to identify patterns of neural and physiological activity during food selection and associations with the nutritional content of individuals' final food selection in VR and RL buffets. Findings revealed that the left inferior frontal gyrus demonstrated significant differential activation when subjects chose high compared to low density food in both settings. These findings suggest that VR simulations may provide similar neural response to real world environments, particularly in control regions of the brain.

2019 IEEE EMBS International Conference on Biomedical and Health Informatics, BHI 2019 - Proceedings