Selective sensitization: consuming a food activates a goal to consume its complements

Huh, Young Eun; Vosgerau, Joachim; Morewedge, Carey

Eating a food reduces the desire to eat more of that food. General-process theories of motivation posit that eating a food also increases the motivation to eat other foods—cross-stimulus sensitization. We propose that eating a food selectively sensitizes consumers to its complements, not to all foods. Eating a food activates a goal to consume foods consumers perceive to pair well with the consumed food. In five experiments, imagined and actual consumption of a food sensitized participants to complementary foods, but did not sensitize participants to unrelated or semantically associated foods. These findings suggest that cross-stimulus sensitization is more specific and predictable than previously assumed. We identify goal-activation as the process through which cross-stimulus sensitization occurs and can be instilled.