Rodent of the Week: Food seems tastier when it’s hard to get


We all know that playing hard to get works in the dating world. Apparently it works in the eating world too.

That’s the conclusion of two scientists from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. In experiments with mice, they found that food becomes more desirable when you have to work hard to get it. It’s even true for healthy foods low in fat and calories.

You see, our brains are wired to assign greater value to things that require more work to attain. Otherwise, according to cognitive dissonance theory, it would just be too confusing to sort out why we work so hard for some goals and so little for others of equal value.


To test whether this applies to food, the researchers from the department of psychological and brain sciences gave mice access to two sugary treats. One could be obtained by pressing a lever once; the other only appeared after pressing a different lever 15 times. Later, when both snacks were made freely available to the mice, they showed a clear preference for the one that was harder to get.

In a second version of the test, there were two different snacks – one that was sweet, and one that was healthy (i.e., lower in calories). Some mice got the healthy snack from the easy lever, and some got it from the hard lever. When both snacks were freely available, the mice who worked hard for the healthy snack preferred it over the sweet treat.

So if you just can’t make that brocolli seem appealing, maybe you should put it way in the back of your fridge where it’ll be harder to reach.

The results were reported this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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