Emotional and Behavioral Aspects of Chocolate Eating

  • E. L. Gibson


Eating chocolate is an emotional experience. The interactions between chocolate and emotions are considered in the context of sensory pleasure, appetite, eating behavior, and food choice. The overriding consequence of eating chocolate is normally one of pleasure from the sensory experience, at least acutely. This pleasure arises from a combination of sensory qualities unique to chocolate that tap into both innate (e.g., sweetness) and rapidly learned (e.g., cues to energy density) influences on liking. Yet pleasure is rewarding, and rewards lead to habits. Furthermore, repeated experience of a reward, and the cues that predict it, teach the brain to want that reward. This “wanting” arises from fundamental motivational circuitry in the brain that can shape our behavior without conscious awareness. When this conflicts with conscious attempts to control our behavior, the resulting ambivalent motivation generates the sensation of craving – an urge to consume that is hard to resist yet feels uncomfortable – chocolate becomes “naughty but nice.” This situation can engender strong emotions, including guilt. Some people seem to be more susceptible to this than others: for example, women are far more likely than men to admit to craving for, or being addicted to, chocolate. Although female hormone cycles are often blamed for this sex difference, the evidence for a straightforward relationship is not convincing: nevertheless, there could be a more complex interplay between sex hormones, stress, and emotional and neurochemical vulnerability, which leads some people to seek solace in eating chocolate. Popular notions of chocolate addiction arising from chemicals contained in chocolate have yet to be supported by good evidence: even so, there are certainly psychoactive chemicals in chocolate, and interest continues in the extent of their impact on emotional and behavioral responses to chocolate.Chocolate can certainly alleviate negative mood, at least acutely. There are several possible reasons, including sensory pleasure and stimulation of stress-relieving opioid and serotonergic brain pathways. Chocolate has a special relationship with stress: when surveyed about eating during stress, less than half admitted to eating more, and yet the vast majority would admit that they usually ate more chocolate when stressed. Thus, chocolate is not only the most craved food, but also the most sought after during stress – the archetypal comfort food. In fact, sweet, fatty, highly palatable foods such as chocolate can reduce physiological signs of stress, such as release of the hormone cortisol. Nevertheless, there is a lack of evidence concerning the long-term emotional and psychological consequences of regularly eating chocolate.


Cocoa Butter Negative Mood Positive Mood Prenatal Stress Emotional Eater 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging


Limbic Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal Axis


Positron Emission Tomography




Large Neutral Amino Acids


  1. Adam TC, Epel ES. Physiol Behav. 2007;91:449–58.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Benton D. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2008;48:385–401.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Berridge KC. Physiol Behav. 2009;97:537–50.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Blass EM, Shide DJ, Weller A. Ann NY Acad Sci. 1989;575:292–305.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bohon C, Stice E, Spoor S. Int J Eat Disord. 2009;42:210–21.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Booth DA, Thibault L, In: Berthoud HR, Seeley RJ, editors. Neural and metabolic control of macronutrient intake. Boca Raton: CRC Press; 2000. p. 61–91.Google Scholar
  7. Brand Miller JC, Holt SH, de Jong V, Petocz P. J Nutr. 2003;133:3149.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Buffenstein R, Poppitt SD, McDevitt RM, Prentice AM. Physiol Behav. 1995;58:1067–77.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cartwright F, Stritzke WG. Eat Behav. 20089:1–12.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cartwright F, Stritzke WG, Durkin K, Houghton S, Burke V, Beilin LJ. Appetite. 2007;48:87–95.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Crews WD Jr, Harrison DW, Wright JW. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87:872–80.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Dallman MF, Pecoraro NC, la Fleur SE. Brain Behav Immun. 2005;19:275–80.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Drewnowski A, Greenwood MR. Physiol Behav. 1983;30:629–33.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Drewnowski A, Hann C. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999;70:28–36.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Fernstrom MH, Fernstrom JD. Am J Clin Nutr. 1995;61:312–9.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Foster-Powell K, Holt SHA, Brand Miller JC. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002;76:5–56.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Gibson EL. In: Shepherd R, Raats M, editors. Psychology of food choice. Wallingford: CAB International; 2006. p. 113–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gibson EL, Brunstrom JM. In: Cooper SJ, Kirkham TC, editors. Progress in brain research: Appetite and body weight – integrative systems and the development of anti-obesity drugs. London: Elsevier; 2007. p. 271–300.Google Scholar
  19. Gibson EL, Desmond E. Appetite. 1999;32:219–40.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gibson EL, Harris K. The three factor eating questionnaire and its link with perceived stress, eating behaviour and food choice. Undergraduate Dissertation. Roehampton University. Unpublished.Google Scholar
  21. Gibson EL, Wardle J. Appetite. 2003;41:97–8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gilhooly CH, Das SK, Golden JK, McCrory MA, Dallal GE, Saltzman E, Kramer FM, Roberts SB. Int J Obes. 2007;31:1849–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hetherington MM. In: Hetherington MM, editors. Food cravings and addiction. Leatherhead: Leatherhead Publishing; 2001. p. 295–323.Google Scholar
  24. Hetherington MM, Macdiarmid JI. Physiol Behav. 1995;57:27–35.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hormes JM, Rozin P. Appetite. 2009;53:256–9.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kern DL, McPhee L, Fisher J, Johnson S, Birch LL. Physiol Behav. 1993;54:71.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kisler VA, Corcoran KJ. Addict Behav. 1997;22:461–7.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kunz C, Rudloff S, Baier W, Klein N, Strobel S. Annu Rev Nutr 2000;20:699–722.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lambert KG, Neal T, Noyes J, Parker C, Worrel P. Curr Psych Res Rev. 1991;10:297–303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Macdiarmid JI, Hetherington MM. Br J Clin Psych. 1995;34:129–38.Google Scholar
  31. Macht M. Appetite. 2008;50:1–11.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Macht M, Dettmer D. Appetite. 2006;46:332–6.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Macht M, Mueller J. Appetite. 2007;49:667–74.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Macht M, Roth S, Ellgring H. Appetite. 2002;39:147–58.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Markus CR, Panhuysen G, Tuiten A, Koppeschaar H, Fekkes D, Peters ML. Appetite 1998;31:49–65.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Martin CK, O’Neil PM, Pawlow L. Obesity. 2006;14:115–21.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. McShea A, Ramiro-Puig E, Munro SB, Casadesus G, Castell M, Smith MA. Nutr Rev. 2008;66:630–41.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Mercer ME, Holder MD. Physiol Behav. 1997;61:311–8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Michener W, Rozin P. Physiol Behav. 1994;56:419–22.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Oliver G, Wardle J. Physiol Behav. 1999;66:511–5.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Oliver G, Wardle J, Gibson EL. Psychosom Med. 2000;62:853–65.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Peters A, Pellerin L, Dallman MF, Oltmanns KM, Schweiger U, Born J, Fehm HL. Prog Neurobiol. 2007;81:61–88.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Raikkonen K, Pesonen AK, Jarvenpaa AL, Strandberg TE. Early Hum Dev. 2004;76:139–45.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Reid M, Hammersley R. Nutr Res Rev. 1999;12:3–23.Google Scholar
  45. Riederer PF, Burger R. Psychopharmakother. 2009;16:26–31.Google Scholar
  46. Rolls ET. Emotion explained. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2007.Google Scholar
  47. Rolls ET, McCabe C. Eur J Neurosci. 2007;26:1067–76.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Rozin P, Levine E, Stoess C. Appetite. 1991;17:199–212.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Small DM, Zatorre RJ, Dagher A, Evans AC, Jones-Gotman M. Brain. 2001;124:1720–33.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Smeets PA, de Graaf C, Stafleu A, van Osch MJ, Nievelstein RA, van der Grond J. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006;83:1297–305.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Smit HJ, Gaffan EA, Rogers PJ. Psychopharmacology 2004;176:412–9.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Smit HJ, Rogers PJ. In: Hetherington MM, editors. Food cravings and addiction. Leatherhead: Leatherhead Publishing; 2001. p. 325–349.Google Scholar
  53. Wallis DJ, Hetherington MM. Appetite. 2009;52:355–62.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Wardle J, Sanderson S, Gibson EL, Rapoport L. Appetite. 2001;37:217–23.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Wolz M, Kaminsky A., Löhle M, Koch R, Storch A, Reichmann H. J Neurol. 2009;256:488–92.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Yeomans MR. Appetite. 1996;27:119–33.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Zellner DA, Garriga-Trillo A, Centeno S, Wadsworth E. Appetite. 2004;42:119–21.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Clinical and Health Psychology Research Centre, Department of Psychology, Whitelands CollegeRoehampton UniversityLondonUK

Personalised recommendations