• Now available! Download high quality food images for your own study!
  • Our main research method is functional MRI. Click on the image to read more about our research.

Welcome to the website of the Nutritional Neuroscience Laboratory

The Nutritional Neuroscience lab is located in Utrecht, The Netherlands, and studies the neural correlates of taste, satiety and (unhealthy) food choice, gut-brain interactions, effects of personality characteristics on food-induced brain responses and functional neuroimaging in anorexia nervosa. For more details about our research, recent publications, or our team, check the corresponding pages in the menu above. On our Resources page, you can download stimuli and tasks developed in our laboratory.

NeuroShop Virtual Supermarket

Within the VIRTUE project, we have developed a virtual supermarket which we share (free) with the research community. 

A major obstacle in investigating how healthy eating interventions impact on the neural mechanisms underlying food choices is the lack of realistic neuroimaging paradigms. Aside from situational factors (lying in a supine position, noise), functional MRI tasks are generally highly simplified and therefore very different from the real-life food choice environment. Health interventions will ultimately have to function effectively in busy, complex real-life settings and therefore it is important to know how such interventions affect brain responses in a realistic setting. To this end, we have developed a virtual supermarket environment (The NeuroShop scan paradigm) for neuroimaging research. Virtual reality has a major potential for use in neuroimaging research: it has been shown that subjects quickly feel ‘embedded’, such that the actual situation (lying in an MRI scanner) is suppressed in favor of the virtual situation (walking in the supermarket).

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The first version of the NeuroShop scan paradigm has currently been finished and consists of two separate implementations of virtual reality, namely an immersive supermarket environment (the NeuroShop environment) and a choice task (the NeuroShop fMRI task). During the first phase of the MRI scanning paradigm, subjects walk around real-time in the NeuroShop Environment in order to become embedded in the virtual supermarket experience. In the current first version of the NeuroShop paradigm, they are viewing a screen and navigate through the environment by using mouse and keyboard or a joystick. It was developed in the free and open source 3D creation suite Blender. Participants can navigate in the supermarket by using the keyboard and mouse and select products by clicking them. The clicked product then disappears from the shelf and the productname is logged in a text file. The NeuroShop was designed to resemble a small supermarket of a Dutch market leader. We developed a script with which the shelves of the supermarket can be filled quickly and easily, such that individuals with limited knowledge of Blender can also adapt the products on the shelves of the NeuroShop. During the second phase, the functional MRI task, subjects are shown time-locked rendered movie clips of walking from one shelf to another, followed by choice screens.

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We performed a study with 29 subjects to investigate the level of presence of the NeuroShop environment. On all subscales (Involvement: M = 3.4, Sensory fidelity: M = 5.0, Adaptation: M = 5.4, and Interface quality: M = 5.5) of the Presence questionnaire (Wittmer et al., 2005) the NeuroShop environment scored higher or similar as other virtual supermarkets that are used in the research field (e.g, Waterlander et al., 2009).

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The NeuroShop research tools open up a wealth of research and development opportunities: it can be used for brain-based fine-tuning of existing health interventions to specific target groups and development of new interventions. The NeuroShop research tools can be used to investigate the effects of interventions and of factors involved in food choice on the neural mechanisms of food choice, such as packaging, in-store advertisements, discounts, pricing, etcetera. To facilitate this, we freely distribute the NeuroShop with a permissive license. 

Please contact Nynke van der Laan if you are interested in using either the NeuroShop virtual environment or the NeuroShop fMRI task. 

FoRC Toolbox

The FoRC platform is a subject measurement program that provides researchers in Nutrition science and related fields with an easy to use and free alternative for commercial questionnaire and experiment management programs. The toolbox allows acquiring Food-Related subject Characteristics, in a standardized manner.

The FoRC platform includes three components, the FoRC Toolbox, the Questionnaire Processor and the Test Battery. The FoRC Toolbox serves as a front-end for the open-source experiment builder OpenSesame. With the FoRC Toolbox you can easily generate, select, combine and run multiple existing questionnaires and tasks. The FoRC Toolbox comes with a Test Battery of questionnaires and tasks. The Questionnaire Processor can be used to process the log-files with raw data that are produced by the FoRC Toolbox.

Developed within the Nudge-It project (nudge-it.eu), funded by the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under Grant Agreement 607310.

You can download the FoRC toolbox, as well as a users manual here.

F4H Image Collection

We developed a standardised food image set. 

If you want to use the images, please read the information below carefully:

Creative Commons Licence
Full4Health Image Collection by University Medical Center Utrecht is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at http://www.nutritionalneuroscience.eu.

By agreeing with the license and the terms below, you will be granted permission to download and use the images from the Full4Health Collection.

The Applicant Agrees:

(1) To give proper credit for the image(s) in publications and presentations. The credit line in publications should read: Standardized [food] images used in the [fMRI] task were provided by the Image Sciences Institute, UMC Utrecht, and created as part of the Full4Health project (www.full4health.eu), funded by the European Union Seventh Framework Program (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement nr. 266408, and the I.Family project (http://www.ifamilystudy.eu), grant agreement nr. 266044.

In addition, the following article should be cited: Charbonnier L, van Meer F, van der Laan LN, Viergever MA, Smeets PA (2016) Standardized food images: A photographing protocol and image database. Appetite 96:166–173

(2) To supply P.A.M. Smeets of the Image Sciences Institute, UMC Utrecht with a digital copy (pdf) of any printed or published work in which the images where used by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

The images have been used in the following papers:

  • S.E.M. De Bruijn, Y.C. De vries, C. De Graaf, S. Boesveldt, G. Jager The reliability and validity of the Macronutrient and Taste Preferences Ranking Task: A new method to measure food preferences. Food quality and preference, 2017, vol 57, pp, 32-40.  
  • F. van Meer, L.N. van der Laan, L. Charbonnier, M.A. Viergever, R.A.H. Adan, P.A.M. Smeets, "Developmental differences in the brain response to unhealthy food cues: an fMRI study of children and adults", American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2016, nr. 6, vol. 104, pp. 1515-1522.
  • L.N. van der Laan, M.E. Barendse, M.A. Viergever, P.A.M. Smeets, "Subtypes of trait impulsivity differentially correlate with neural responses to food choices", Behavioral Brain Research, 2016, vol. 296, pp. 442-450; doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2015.09.026.
  • L. Charbonnier, L.N. van der Laan, M.A. Viergever, P.A.M. Smeets, "Functional MRI of challenging food choices: forced choice between equally liked high- and low-calorie foods in the absence of hunger", PLoS One, 10(7): e0131727 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0131727
  • L.N. van der Laan, D.T.D. de Ridder, M.A. Viergever, P.A.M. Smeets, "Activation in inhibitory brain regions during food choice correlates with temptation strength and self-regulatory success in weight-concerned women", Frontiers in Neuroscience, 2014, vol. 8, p. 308.
  • L.N. van der Laan, D.T.D. de Ridder, L. Charbonnier, M.A. Viergever, P.A.M. Smeets, "Sweet lies: neural, visual, and behavioral measures reveal a lack of self-control conflict during food choice in weight-concerned women", Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 2014, vol. 8, p. 184.

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Research from the Nutritional Neuroscience Lab was funded by grants from the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7)

The Nutritional Neuroscience Lab is affiliated with the Image Sciences Institute of the University Medical Center Utrecht, The Netherlands.