P&H workshop ‘The neuroscience of eating behaviour: what psychologists should know’


20 March 2009

Location: room nr 036, bestuursgebouw, Heidelberglaan 8, Utrecht

Teaching staff: Dr. Carolijn Ouwehand, Dr. Paul Smeets, Dr. Monique Smeets (Utrecht University), Prof. Dr. Margriet Westerterp (Maastricht University), Prof. Dr. Graham Finlayson (University of Leeds).

Registration: Janet Hurtado (j.hurtado@uu.nl) before 25 February 2009

Maximum number of participants: 25

Costs: € 75,--; P&H PhD students € 50,--. Please make your payment to Postbank acc. No. 229728, FSW, Heidelberglaan 1, Utrecht and make sure to mention “P&H/Neuroscience”and your name.


Eating behaviour and eating-related problems is a “hot” topic in science. Likewise, we are currently witnessing a growing number of researchers devoted to this topic within the research institute for Psychology & Health. Naturally, the emphasis of this research is on psychological factors involved in eating behaviour, such as self-regulation, emotional eating, eating in children and adolescents, and prevention of obesity.

While we are making progress in understanding the cognitive and affective determinants of eating, neuroscientists, neurobiologists and molecular geneticists are also making headway in discovering novel neuropeptides and uncovering the pathways of interaction between the peripheral nervous system and the brain involved in eating behaviour.

It is difficult to keep up with the scientific developments in this area, yet we should watch out not to lose track altogether, as the neuroscience underlying eating behaviour provides us both with constraints as well as opportunities to further our research, as well as our prevention and intervention techniques.

Therefore, the aim of this symposium is to provide an overview of recent developments in the neuroscience of eating behaviour. We will kick off with a presentation by Dr. P. Smeets, who will address the brain mechanisms involved in the decision to eat, and what has been learned from brain imaging techniques such as PET and fMRI. Following this presentation we will visit the lab where his team conducts their research, where he will give us a demonstration of how fMRI is used to measure eating behaviour.

One of the most recent developments is related to the distinction in eating behaviour between liking and wanting, two reward systems with separate neurological substrates, which developments will be discussed by Prof. G. Finlayson after lunch.  Dr. C Ouwehand will then provide examples of how neuroscientic ideas of liking and wanting are used for behavioural research in our own laboratory.

Scientific developments in our understanding of eating behaviour are of particular importance for the problem of obesity and obesity management. Prof. Westerterp will address the determinants and maintaining factors of obesity, with special attention to the role endocrinological factors, and implications for prevention.

The final question that will be addressed has to do with how the insights obtained today affect (your) psychological research. Are there any developments that we need to take into account, should we change our research agendas, or can neuroscientists and psychologists investigate eating behaviour pretty much in parallel without bothering with each other?



09:00 – 09.30              Welcome with coffee and tea

09.30 – 09:45              Monique Smeets

                                   General introduction

09:45 – 10:45              Paul Smeets

                                   Eating with your brain

10:45 –  11:45             Visit to UMCU-labs to see how fMRI research on eating is conducted

11:45 –  12:00             Return to workshop area

12:00 – 13:00              Lunch

13:00 – 14:00              Graham Finlayson

The role of food hedonics (liking and wanting) in eating behaviour

14:00 – 14:30              Carolijn Ouwehand

                                   Liking and wanting: examples of behavioural research

14:30 – 14:45              Coffee and tea break

14:45 – 15:45              Margriet Westerterp

On the weighty issue of eating: cause, development, function and evolution of eating behaviour

15:45 –  16:30             Group discussion with Ph.D. students on how recent findings from neuroscience affects your own research (plans)

16:30 – 17:00              Drinks


! Preparation


We wish to ask the participants to prepare a few paragraphs addressing the questions below and send these to m.a.m.smeets@uu.nl no later than 1 week prior to the workshop (13 March). This will allow us to tailor the workshops to meet your questions and needs as best as we can. Please address:

  • Your topic and main research question. What developments are going on in Neuroscience that you are aware of, that are relevant to your field or topic? This does not necessarily have to be restricted to brain imaging research, but can be extended to physiology, neuroendocrinology etc. Is neuroscience important to your topic at all, or not, and if so, why not?
  • What (main) questions(s) do you have about neuroscience that you would like to have answered during this workshop? Whom would you like to ask the question to?
  • What neuroscience research, related to your topic, do you think should be done in order to address important questions or knowledge gaps? Or do you think neuroscience cannot do much for your field of work?