Like M&Ms When You're Stressed? You''ll Like Them Just as Much When You're Not

What do you do when you're stressed?

Reach for a half-pound bag of M&M's, like I do, or a couple glasses of merlot like my friends do?  Or maybe watch a Housewives Reunion where they all scream at and accuse each other of everything from copying their Jimmy Choo Belgravias to calling each other's kids spoiled?

Well, the sad truth is that feeling stressed may prompt you to go to great lengths to satisfy an urge for a drink or sweets, but you're not likely to enjoy the indulgence any more than someone who is not stressed and has the same treat just for pleasure, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association, as reported by newswise.com.

 "Most of us have experienced stress that increases our craving for rewarding experiences, such as eating a tasty bar of chocolate, and it can make us invest considerable effort in obtaining the object of our desire, such as running to a convenience store in the middle of the night," said lead author Eva Pool, MS, a doctoral student at the University of Geneva. "But while stress increases our desire to indulge in rewards, it does not necessarily increase the enjoyment we experience."

Stress prompted chocolate lovers in an experiment to exert three times as much effort to smell chocolate than unstressed chocolate lovers, but both groups reported about the same level of enjoyment when they got a whiff of the pleasing aroma, according to the study, published in APA's Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition.

It has something to do with stress and rewards, according to the study, which found that stress may increase our desire for reward but not the pleasure we get out of eating or drinking or gambling or any of the other things we may do to alleviate it.  

"Stress plays a critical role in many psychological disorders and is one of the most important factors determining relapses in addiction, gambling and binge eating," said another author, Tobias Brosch, PhD, also of the University of Geneva. "Stress seems to flip a switch in our functioning: If a stressed person encounters an image or a sound associated with a pleasant object, this may drive them to invest an inordinate amount of effort to obtain it."

Previous research with laboratory rats supports the idea that wanting and liking rely on two distinct networks of neurons in the brain that can be activated independently, according to the study.

"Although the findings with rodents provide a novel explanation for the stress-induced increase of reward pursuits, to the best of our knowledge, they have never been demonstrated in humans," the study said.

All I know is I don't care whether I like them the same when I'm stressed, or when I'm not.  Just give me that bag of M&Ms and I'll be floating on Cloud Nine at least till I finish them, then feel guilty and sick, but that's a whole other study.


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