MSc student projects

The Nutritional Neuroscience Lab does functional MRI research related to food evaluation (sight, taste) and food choice. Motivated students with a background in nutrition, psychology, psychiatry or a related field are welcome to do a literature study or internship. The currently available projects are listed below.  

Promoting healthy food purchases in an online supermarket - an eye-tracking study
Type: Internship or thesis, > 4 months.
When: From now onwards!
Background: Online supermarkets are the future of grocery shopping: last year the market share of online groceries increased with 15%. Considering that grocery shopping affects the eating behavior of several people over several days, and the largest household budget for food is spent at the supermarket, online supermarkets are a particularly relevant setting for implementing interventions for healthy eating.
It is widely known that environmental cues influence what you like and buy (Berger & Fitzsimons, 2008, J Market Res).  In this project we want to investigate which manipulations to the design of an online supermarket can steer consumers toward healthy food choices. With eye-tracking we want to explore which attentional mechanisms underlie these effects. Our earlier work (van der Laan et al., 2014, Front Behav Neurosci) suggested that directing attention away from preferred unhealthy food and allocating attention to less preferred healthy foods might promote healthy food choices.
A first line of design manipulations that we want to test are those that rely on health goal-priming.  Health primes increase the mental accessibility of health goals and thereby motivate healthy choices (Papies et al., 2014, Int J Obes).Part of the project is to determine which design manipulations are most effective in increasing the number of healthy and decreasing the number of unhealthy food choices, e.g., textual versus pictorial cues, explicit versus implicit messages. A hypothesis is that health primes result in increased attention for goal-relevant (healthy) products and thereby facilitate healthy food choices. We are also interested in differences between normal-weight and overweight consumers and differences between the hungry and satiated state.
Another design manipulation that could be investigated is the base colour of the online supermarket. It has been shown that colours (e.g., colour of the plate) can influence eating behaviour. Also, context effects could be investigated: there is ample evidence that the availability of options in the choice set influences (food) choice. Students are encouraged to bring in their own ideas for other design manipulations that might influence food choice.
There is room for 1 or 2 students (thesis projects, start date:  September or later). No prior knowledge is required (eye-tracking can be learned). Some experience with Adobe Photoshop (or comparable software) is desirable because the work involves adapting the design of existing webpages of online supermarkets.  
Contact: Nynke van der Laan

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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.