Catherine Steele

Professional Title:

Graduate Student

University, Department, Lab, Etc:

Kansas State University; Department of Psychological Sciences; Reward, Timing, and Decision Laboratory

Brief Bio:

Why is it so hard to make healthy food choices? We are often aware of the physiological consequences of eating foods high in processed fat and sugar, but it is still difficult to avoid the unhealthy foods available now in favor of a health goal that could take months to reach. This struggle to avoid immediate gratification has become the focus of my research. My goal is to help people make healthier food choices. To begin my journey, I have begun investigating how foods high in processed fat and sugar affect impulsive choice behavior using a rodent model. We have found that diets high in processed fat and sugar induce impulsive choice behavior, which would make it difficult to wait for the health goal when presented with unhealthy food choices. By learning more about the factors that make it difficult to wait for our health goals, we can find ways to help people reach those goals. 
Presentation with undergrad
Rat and HFHS

Current Research Question:

How and why do diets high in processed fat and sugar affect behavior, specifically impulsive choice behavior?

Background on Research:

There is a relationship between obesity and impulsive choice such that people with obesity make more impulsive choices. My initial work investigated how diet might affect this relationship using a rodent model. Using a rodent model helps us control for things that we cannot control in humans such as dietary history or experience. We found that diets high in fat and sugar led to more impulsive choice behavior. This suggests that diets high in fat and sugar can affect behavior, which may make it more difficult to make healthy food choices. Now, my research seeks to understand why diets high in processed fat and sugar affect behavior.

Overview of Methods Used:

To see how diets high in fat and sugar affect behavior, the rats are fed either a diet high in fat and sugar or a normal, healthy diet for an extended period of time. We give the high-fat/high-sugar rats a sugar and Crisco mixture. Then, we test their impulsive choice behavior. Similar to the marshmallow test used with children, rats are given the choice between a smaller reward available after a short delay or a larger reward available after a longer delay. Choosing the smaller reward after a short delay would be considered an impulsive choice. Because we can’t ask the rats what they would choose, they learn the choices in an operant chamber and respond on a lever for food. 

Connecting with Catherine Steele: 

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Operant chambers