Emotional eating, internet overuse, and alcohol intake among college students: a pilot study with virtual reality

Introduction: The term emotional eating (EE) describes the tendency to eat as an automatic response to negative emotions and has been linked to anxiety and depression, common symptoms among the university population. The EE tendencies have also been associated with excessive internet use and an increase in alcohol intake among young university students.

Methods: The aim of this study is to examine the relationship between the tendency towards EE and other health-compromising behaviors, such as excessive internet use or high alcohol intake. Additionally, it aims to investigate the association of these risky behaviors with the participants’ performance level in a virtual reality (VR) task that assesses their executive functioning, and to assess impulsivity and levels of anxiety and depression.

Results: The results associate EE with excessive internet (r = 0.332; p < 0.01). use but not with alcohol consumption. Alcohol consumption was not associated with anxiety, depression, or impulsivity, but it was related to altered executive functions in the VR task: flexibility and working memory explained 24.5% of the variance. By contrast, EE and internet overuse were not related to executive function but were associated with impulsivity, depression, and anxiety. Impulsivity and depressive symptoms accounted for 45% of the variance in EE. Depression, trait anxiety and impulsivity explained 40.6% of the variance in internet overuse.

Discussion: The results reveal distinct patterns of psychological and neuropsychological alterations associated with alcohol consumption compared to emotional eating (EE) and excessive internet use. These findings underscore significant differences in the contributing factors between addictions and other substance-free addictive behaviors. For a deeper understanding of the various contributing factors to EE in college students, further research is recommended.

This research in Frontiers in Nutrition includes direct mentions to Nesplora and Ice Cream in the text:

«Processing speed, planification, working memory and flexibility were measured with the Ice Cream Test (ICT), created by Giunti Psycometrics®, within Nesplora® package through virtual reality. This test has shown validity and reliability to measure executive functions. The task allows to measure attention, working memory, planification, flexibility and processing speed at the same time.

The participants were immersed in a VR experience where they had to assume the role of an ice cream vendor, following the instructions given at the beginning of the task. All task instructions are delivered audibly: “you’ll be working at the ice cream shop for a while. Customers come in groups of four, and you must serve them according to your boss’s instructions. Call your boss, and he’ll provide you with his priorities for serving customers. Click on the phone to give him a call.” The boss’s instructions outlined the order of attending to customers based on various criteria and the preparation of ice creams, which differed for each customer. Participants were provided with a recipe book, which they could consult whenever they deemed it necessary.» *

«These differences could suggest that self-report questionnaires or conventional neuropsychological tests do not accurately capture the complexity and dynamic character of real-life circumstances. To address these limitations, in our study is that the executive functioning of students has been assessed using an ecological VR task: the Ice Cream Test (ICT). Tools for neuropsychological assessments based on VR may provide improved validity and accuracy for evaluating a variety of cognitive skills, including executive functions». **

*[section 2.2 – Variables and instruments]

**[section 4 – Discussion]

The references include three articles directly linked to Nesplora and its own research:

  • Climent Martínez, G, Luna Lario, P, Bombín González, I, Cifuentes Rodríguez, A, Tirapu Ustárroz, J, and Díaz, OU. Evaluación neuropsicológica de las funciones ejecutivas mediante realidad virtual. Rev Neurol. (2014) 58:465–75. doi: 10.33588/rn.5810.2013487
  • Bombín González, I, Cifuentes Rodríguez, A, Climent Martínez, G, Luna Lario, P, Cardas Ibáñez, J, Tirapu Ustárroz, J, et al. Validez ecológica y entornos multitarea en la evaluación de las funciones ejecutivas. Rev Neurol. (2014) 59:77. doi: 10.33588/rn.5902.2013578
  • Fernandez, MA, Rebon-Ortiz, F, Saura-Carrasco, M, Climent, G, and Diaz-Orueta, U. Ice cream: new virtual reality tool for the assessment of executive functions in children and adolescents: a normative study. Front Psychol. (2023) 14. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2023.1196964



Marchena-Giráldez C, Carbonell-Colomer M and Bernabéu-Brotons E (2024) Emotional eating, internet overuse, and alcohol intake among college students: a pilot study with virtual reality. Front. Nutr. 11:1400815. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2024.1400815


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