Researchers from the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge have found that brain alterations caused by obesity may lead to a poor memory, a recent study in published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology reports.
The research team tested the episodic memory of 50 subjects between the ages of 18 and 35 who had a body mass index (BMI) between 18 and 51. In total, 26 participants had a BMI of less than 25 — marking them as lean — and 24 had a BMI over 25, marking them as either overweight or obese.
During the study, participants attempted to complete a computerized treasure hunt by hiding items. Then, over the next two days they were asked to remember which items they hid as well as where and when they hid them, UPI reports.
Those with a higher BMI performed worse on the tasks overall but did not do worse as the tasks increased in difficulty. Though factors like age, education and gender were accounted for in the memory test, such factors also could have an influence on a person’s BMI.
While many questions are left unanswered, the study reveals an important link between eating, weight, and memory.
“Understanding what drives our consumption and how we instinctively regulate our eating behavior is becoming more and more important given the rise of obesity in society,” said study author Dr Lucy Cheke, a researcher at the University of Cambridge, in a statement. “We know that to some extent hunger and satiety are driven by the balance of hormones in our bodies and brains, but psychological factors also play an important role – we tend to eat more when distracted by television or working, and perhaps to ‘comfort eat’ when we are sad, for example.”
The study’s purpose is not to show that overweight people have worse memories than skinny ones. Rather, it aims to show that a poor memory of past meals may influence a person’s overeating.
“It is possible that becoming overweight may make it harder to keep track of what and how much you have eaten, potentially making you more likely to overeat,” Cheke added. “The possibility that there may be episodic memory deficits in overweight individuals is of concern, especially given the growing evidence that episodic memory may have a considerable influence on feeding behavior and appetite regulation.”
This is not the first time researchers have looked at the association between weight and dysfunction in different areas of the brain. But while many studies have analyzed obesity’s effect on the parts of the brain that involve memory and learning, there has been very little research on how it impacts memory.