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According to the study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, participants' food consumption was evaluated on two separate occasions - one day when they played the game while eating and on another day when they ate without distractions.
The game, called Rapid Visual Information Processing (RVIP), tests users' visual sustained attention and working memory and has been used extensively by researchers in evaluating people for problems such as Alzheimer's disease and attention-deficit disorder.
New York: Dear Parents, please take note. Researchers have found that being distracted by technology during mealtimes may decrease the amount of food a person eats.
"When 119 young adults consumed a meal while playing a simple computer game for 15 minutes, they ate significantly less than when they ate the same meal without distractions, said study lead author Carli A Liguori from the University of Illinois in the US.
The game randomly flashes a series of digits on the computer screen at the rate of one per second. Participants in the study were instructed to hit the space bar on the keyboard whenever they saw three consecutive odd numbers appear.
"It's fairly simple but distracting enough that you have to really be watching it to make sure that you don't miss a number and are mentally keeping track," Liguori said.
"That was a big question for us going into this - how do you ensure that the participant is distracted? And the RVIP was a good solution for that," Liguori added.
The participants, who had fasted for 10 hours before each visit, were told to consume as much as they wanted of 10 miniature quiches while they were either playing the game or eating quietly without distractions for 15 minutes.
The food was weighed and counted before and after it was given to each person.
After a 30-minute rest period, participants completed an exit survey that asked them to recall how many quiches they had been given and the number they had consumed.
They also rated how much they enjoyed the meal as well as their feelings of hunger and fullness.
Liguori hypothesized that, in keeping with prior research, when people ate while using the computer game they would not only consume more food but would have poorer memory of what they ate and enjoy it less.
Instead, she found that participants ate less when they were distracted by the computer game.
Moreover, participants' meal memory - their ability to recall how much they had been served and eaten - was less accurate when they were
distracted than when they ate quietly without the game.
The results suggest that there may be a difference between distracted eating and mindless eating. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, Liguori hypothesized that they may be distinctly different behaviors with nuances that need to be explored.
Mindless eating may occur when we eat without intending to do so, the researchers said.
For example, we grab a handful of candy from the jar at the office as we walk by or start snacking on chips because they happen to be in sitting in front of us.
Conversely, distracted eating may occur when we engage in a secondary activity such as watching TV or answering emails while we are deliberately eating - for example, when we're eating dinner, the researchers added.
The University of Illinois is a public land-grant research and was founded in 1867.