Chocolate is known to be one of the most favorite treats in the world, but for chocolate lovers, it is much more than just a treat. In between binges, some might wonder why leaving that bar of chocolate on the shelf in the store is so difficult and why keeping it in the kitchen cabinet for longer than a day is nearly impossible. Therefore, the psychology behind chocolate cravings is becoming an increasingly popular topic for researchers, wanting to have it explained once and for all.
Dr. Amy Jo Stavnezer, a professor of psychology and neuroscience, is able to help the world understand why chocolate cravings exist. She says, “The experience of eating chocolate releases dopamine in particular brain regions. That same dopamine is released during sex, laughter and other activities that are enjoyable. Moreover, the frontal lobe creates a memory of this experience, so whenever people think of chocolate, the brain craves for that same experience again.”
The fact that dopamine is released while eating chocolate was shown in previous studies; however, Dr. Philip K. Wilson thinks there is much more to it. “Consumer chocolate contains over 500 types of chemicals, so it is not easy to find out which chemicals contribute to which psychological functions. There is a lifetime of research and analysis to be done,” he says.
In an interview, Stavnezer explained the results of a research, in which scientists studied chocolate cravings. Dr. Paul Rozin from the University of Pennsylvania gave a group of chocolate lovers a Hershey bar, capsules with Hershey cocoa powder, a white chocolate confection and a white chocolate bar. Participants of the study were asked to eat these products at separate cravings in a specific order, after which they rated their decrease in craving 90 minutes later. The results show that eating a Hershey bar was most effective when it comes to satisfying chocolate cravings and participants experienced a 61 percent decrease in their cravings. White chocolate only resulted into a 42 percent decrease and cocoa capsules were least effective with only a 16 percent decrease in chocolate cravings.
Stavnezer says the study, performed by Rozin, supports what she has been convinced of all along. Chocolate cravings are driven by all components of eating chocolate, such as its taste, the melting on the tongue and the smell of cocoa. “The study proves that it is not a biological effect of one of the 500 chemicals that are found in this treat,” Stavnezer said.
Other preliminary studies suggest that chocolate may improve the memory, attention span, problem-solving skills and reaction time. Additionally, a German study revealed that dark chocolate improves the texture of the skin. Stavnezer recommends chocolate lovers to take their time when eating chocolate in order to enhance the positive experience and to satisfy cravings with a smaller amount of chocolate.
While chocolate cravings can be explained by researchers, it is not yet clear if there is a way to suppress these feelings. Stavnezer says, “The botanist Linneaus was right when he called the cocoa plant Food of the Gods.”
By Diana Herst