Stress, personal traits and nutrition: how are they linked?

Viena iš tyrimo autorių – ISM tyrėja, doktorantė Dovilė Barauskaitė


People with certain personality traits, such as impulsivity, tend to make unhealthy food choices when stressed, according to a study by researchers from ISM University of Management and Economics, Vilnius University, Groningen University and VU Amsterdam. According to this study, people with different Life History Strategies (LHS) make different health-related decisions.

Different life circumstances mean that some of us have a fast and others a slow life history strategy. The fast life history strategy is associated with high impulsivity and short-term goal orientation, and is most often developed in response to difficult, unstable and stressful conditions in childhood. Meanwhile, slow strategy emerges as people grow up under stable conditions, and is characterised by long-term planning and low impulsivity.

The researchers’ study shows that stressful situations can increase the consumption of hedonic, i.e. tasty, calorie-dense, often unhealthy food, among people with fast life history strategy, while no such relationship was found among those with slow strategy.

The results of the study also suggest that stress-induced food consumption among those with a fast strategy is due to their greater sensitivity to cues associated with scarcity or limited resources, such as scarce or limited-edition products. At the same time, labels indicating high caloric content of products may limit the tendency of people with a fast strategy to (over)consume hedonic foods under stressful circumstances.

The insights from this study are relevant for both companies and public policy makers and can be directly applied to address pressing societal issues such as promoting healthy lifestyles and well-being. The results of the study can also be used for consumer segmentation and positioning and communication strategies.

Authors of the study: Dr. Bob M. Fennis, Dr. Justina Gineikiene, PhD Cand. Dovile Barauskaite, Dr. Guido M. van Koningsbruggen.

The researchers’ article was published in the scientific journal Personality and Individual Differences, 185, 111261. Personality and Individual Differences, 185, 111261.

The project “Life History Strategies and Health-related Behaviour in Well-being Contexts” is funded by the Lithuanian Research Council’s Research Groups Programme (contract NoS-MIP-17-125).