CBBM Lecture "Liking versus wanting for food in individuals at risk of overeating"

by Prof. Graham Finlayson,

Institute of Psycholigical Sciences,

University of Leeds


The pleasure associated with high energy foods is a strong determinant of food choice and shown to modulate appetite and food intake. In a series of studies, we have investigated the effect of high or low fat containing foods (sweet or non-sweet tasting) on hedonics, satiety and food intake; and according to individual differences in psycho-biological markers underlying susceptibility to overeating. Importantly, an experimental procedure has been developed to evaluate the strength of liking and wanting in human subjects using a range of visual food stimuli varying in sweetness and fattiness (1).

Susceptibility to overeating can be measured using psychometric eating behaviour scales or inferred from excess levels of body fat. Both indices are positively associated with liking and particularly wanting for high fat relative to low fat food (2). Furthermore, in obese adults, fasting leptin concentrations are positively associated with wanting for high fat foods independent of individual adiposity, consistent with the hypothesis that resistance to leptin could weaken satiety and enhance the hedonic preference for high fat food (3).

The eating behaviour traits of disinhibition and binge eating are common measures of susceptibility to overeating and higher scores are associated with weaker satiety and enhanced wanting for high fat and sweet tasting foods. When provided with a test buffet containing a variety of palatable foods, women with high scores specifically select those foods in the sweet-high fat combination (4). Interestingly, subjects with these traits have also been shown to consume excess amounts of food after consuming a fixed preload of sweet food, but show normal eating after savoury or bland tasting preloads (5).

These results have shown, that certain individuals (susceptible to overeating) show a tendency to prefer, and to consume, the high sweet/high fat combination, indicating an impact on hedonics and satiation (during consumption). It also appears that sweetness (as a sensory preload) has the capacity to reinforce its own consumption and can exert effects after consumption (during satiety) by increasing wanting rather than liking for sweet/high fat foods.

Learning objectives

  • To learn about the effect of fat and (savoury or sweet) taste on appetite control.
  • To be updated on methodology to examine satiation, satiety and food hedonics (liking and wanting).
  • To understand how individual differences in susceptibility to overeating can interact with taste and fat content to influence hedonics, satiety and appetite control.

Key references

1)       Finlayson G, King, N, Blundell JE. (2007). Is it possible to dissociate ‘liking’ and ‘wanting’ for foods in humans? A novel experimental procedure. Physiology & Behavior, 90:36-42.

2)       Dalton M, Blundell JE, Finlayson G. (Under review). Effect of BMI and Binge Eating on Food Reward and Energy Intake: Further Evidence for a Binge Eating Subtype of Obesity. Obesity Facts.

3)       Finlayson G, Gibbons CH, Caudwell P, Naslund E, Blundell JE. (2013). Fasting leptin concentrations are associated with hedonic preference for high fat food in obese adults independent of adiposity or energy requirements. Presented at 20th European Congress on Obesity, Liverpool, UK.

4)       Finlayson G, Arlotti A, Dalton M, King N, Blundell J. (2011). Implicit wanting and explicit liking are markers for trait binge eating. A susceptible phenotype for overeating. Appetite, 57:722-728.

5)       Finlayson G, Bordes I, Griffioen-Roose S, de Graaf C, Blundell JE. (2012). Susceptibility to Overeating Affects the Impact of Savory or Sweet Drinks on Satiation, Reward, and Food Intake in Nonobese Women. Journal of Nutrition, 142:1-6.


Graham Finlayson is Associate Professor in Biopsychology at the Institute of Psychological Sciences, Faculty of Medicine & Health, University of Leeds, UK. He is experienced in monitoring behavioural issues concerning appetite control, in particular hedonic processes driving food choice and food preference. His recent research is examining psychological and behavioural parameters of hunger/satiety and food reward (liking and wanting) in relation to genetic polymorphisms, gut hormones and metabolism during energy deficit. He specialises in two themes within the psychobiology of human motivation. Theme 1: In the study of Food Reward he has developed an international reputation. He is proprietor of a well-recognised behavioural task – the Leeds Food Preference Questionnaire (a.k.a. Liking and Wanting task). Theme 2: In the study of the interaction between energy intake and energy expenditure he is coordinator of a physical activity based research program. His research involves the assessment of eating behaviours, cognitions, physiology, metabolism and genes in relation to body composition and energy balance. He has published over 70 peer-reviewed research papers with +1,300 citations and has an h-index of 17.