01 October 2005

Andrade and May craving study funded

This £42,494 ESRC project will tests a key tenet of a major new cognitive-emotional theory of desire, the Elaborated Intrusion (EI) theory (Kavanagh, Andrade and May, 2005; May, Andrade, Panabokke and Kavanagh, 2004). The EI theory argues that craving for substances occurs when otherwise unconscious cognitive processes enter consciousness, as apparently spontaneous intrusive thoughts, and are then elaborated through a cycle of imagery and memory retrieval.

Specifically, this research tests the prediction that attempting to suppress intrusive thoughts about a desired substance will paradoxically increase craving. This is important because many people spontaneously try to suppress thoughts as a means of coping with craving for addictive substances such as alcohol and tobacco, as well as for overconsumed substances such as snacks and junk food. The EI theory argues that this paradoxically increases the incidence of desires. Based on EI theory, Thought Diversion techniques that provide people with a way of diverting attention away from the intrusive thoughts should be more effective than attempted suppression.

The research also tests the efficacy on food craving in lab of a technique called 'Mindfulness' that has been used clinically in treating depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. In contrast to thought suppression, this allows people to accept the intrusive thoughts and then to 'let them go' without elaborating them. EI theory suggests that this will be a more successful way of reducing craving than thought suppression.

If the EI theory is supported by this research, thought diversion and acceptance could become a part of public education programmes designed to tackle obesity and use of harmful substances.