Put the brakes on Pac-man: Development and evaluation of a virtual reality game to decrease food intake


We are exposed to a wide variety of tasty foods at almost every moment of the day and this is thought to be the leading cause of overeating. However, there is one exception in which exposure to tempting food decreases rather than increases intake: subsequent intake is decreased when individuals engaged with foods outside an eating context in a previous unrelated task. This ‘pre-exposure effect’ occurs only when tempting foods are physically present, which severely complicates the translation of this effect into an intervention.
Virtual reality (VR) provides the ultimate level of immersion, creating a sense of physical presence in the three-dimensional virtual environment. Therefore, VR has a major potential for implementation of the pre-exposure effect in an intervention and to assess the underlying psychological mechanisms, like the conflict magnitude. Here, we develop a VR game with realistic virtual foods and we will assess in the lab and the field whether interaction with virtual foods decreases subsequent food intake similarly as real foods do. Further, underlying mechanisms will be probed and a larger subsidy proposal will be prepared.
This multidisciplinary project combines psychology with state-of-the-art VR game development and initiates a collaboration between a university and a VR studio. This project will illustrate how state-of-the-art VR techniques in concert with persuasive behavior change theory can help individuals to resist temptations of the obesogenic environment and thereby contribute to health and wellbeing. Given the global scope of the overweight epidemic, this project strengthens the international competitiveness of the Dutch VR industry.





Dr. ir. L.N. van der Laan

Verbonden aan

Universiteit van Amsterdam, Faculteit der Maatschappij- en Gedragswetenschappen, Communicatiewetenschap


27/12/2017 tot 25/07/2019