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Serotonin enhances the impact of health information on food choice

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Vlaev, I 
Crockett, MJ 
Clark, L 
Robbins, TW 


Serotonin has been implicated in promoting self-control, regulation of hunger and physiological homeostasis, and regulation of caloric intake. However, it remains unclear whether the effects of serotonin on caloric intake reflect purely homeostatic mechanisms, or whether serotonin also modulates cognitive processes involved in dietary decision making. We investigated the effects of an acute dose of the serotonin reuptake inhibitor citalopram on choices between food items that differed along taste and health attributes, compared with placebo and the noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor atomoxetine. Twenty-seven participants attended three sessions and received single doses of atomoxetine, citalopram, and placebo in a double-blind randomised cross-over design. Relative to placebo, citalopram increased choices of more healthy foods over less healthy foods. Citalopram also increased the emphasis on health considerations in decisions. Atomoxetine did not affect decision making relative to placebo. The results support the hypothesis that serotonin may influence food choice by enhancing a focus on long-term goals. The findings are relevant for understanding decisions about food consumption and also for treating health conditions such as eating disorders and obesity.



serotonin, motivation, action control, decision making, food choice

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Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

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M.J.C. was supported by a Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellowship (092217/Z/10/Z) and a Wellcome Trust ISSF award. L.C. is the Director of the Centre for Gambling Research at the University of British Columbia, which is funded by the Province of British Columbia and the British Columbia Lottery Corporation. L.C. has provided consultancy work for, and received royalty payments from, Cambridge Cognition Ltd. L.C. has received a speaker honorarium from Svenska Spel. U.M. has received honoraria for consultancy, educational talks and/or sponsorship for attendance at scientific meetings from Eli Lilly, Flynn Pharma/Medice, Heptares, Janssen, Lundbeck, Shire and Sunovion. T.W.R. has provided consultancy work for Cambridge Cognition, Lundbeck, Otsuka, Shire. T.W.R. has received royalty payments from Cambridge Cognition (CANTAB); Research Grants; Lundbeck. T.W.R. has received editorial honoraria from Springer Verlag, Elsevier. The Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute was supported by a joint award from the Wellcome Trust and the MRC G10001354.