Scientists predict sexual activity, weight-gain in female university students

If you spent your undergraduate years scarfing down pepperoni pizza, chugging beer, gorging on snack cakes and hooking up with someone just about every weekend, it turns out that there may be an scientific reason behind your hedonistic behaviour.

Scientists at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire have discovered that it is possible to predict future behaviour patterns relating to food and even sexual behaviour by using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRIs).

"This is one of the first studies in brain imaging that uses the responses observed in the scanner to predict important, real-world outcomes over a long period of time," study c0-author Todd Heatherton says in a statement. "Using brain activity to predict a consequential behavior outside the scanner is pretty novel."

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The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, targeted and observed the "reward centres" of the brains of 58 female first-year undergraduate students — all between the ages of 18 and 19 — at Dartmouth College. After answering a few questions and doing a weigh-in, the students were then shown images of appetizing food, sexual scenes, animals, general people, people consuming alcohol, and environmental scenes for two seconds at a time.

Six months later, the scientists compared the students' weight to where it was at the beginning of the study and found there was a correlation between weight gain and their reward centre's reaction to food imagery.

"The people whose brains responded more strongly to food cues were the people who went on to gain more weight six months later," explains Kathryn Demos, another author of the paper.

Similarly, those students whose reward centres lit up when presented with sexual imagery were more likely than the others to have engaged in sexual activity — and more of it.

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In short, this study is a predictor of willpower and self-control when faced with various temptations. It may prove helpful in terms of determining those individuals who are at higher risks for obesity and potentially even alcoholism.

"We seek to understand situations in which people face temptations and try to not act on them," says William Kelley, associate professor of psychological and brain science and senior author of the paper.

Although the fact that our behavioural patterns surrounding food and sex may be pre-programmed and can be dissected by scientists takes all of the fun out of hedonism.(Almost.)

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