Binary components of food reinforcement: Amplitude and persistence Journal Articles uri icon

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  • BACKGROUND: Demand curves provide an index of how reinforcing a food is. Research examining the latent structure of alcohol and tobacco reinforcement identified two underlying components of reinforcement, amplitude and persistence. No research has assessed latent structure of food reinforcement and how these factors are related to BMI. SUBJECTS AND METHODS: Participants were 297 adults from two studies that completed food purchasing tasks to assess the following measures of relative reinforcing efficacy (RRE) of food: intensity (Q0): purchases made when the food was free or of very minimal price, Omax: maximum expenditure (purchases*price), Pmax: price point where maximum expenditure was observed, breakpoint: first price where 0 purchases are made, and demand elasticity (α): quantitative non-linear relationship between purchasing and price. Principal components analysis was used to examine the factor structure of RRE for food across samples and types of food. RESULTS: Both studies revealed two factor solutions, with Pmax, Omax, breakpoint and α loading on factor 1 (persistence) and intensity (Q0) loading on factor 2 (amplitude) across both high and low energy dense foods. Persistence reflects an aggregate measure of price sensitivity and amplitude reflects the preferred volume of consumption (how long vs. how much). The two factors accounted for between 91.7 and 95.4% of the variance in food reinforcement. Intensity for high energy dense foods predicted BMI for both studies (r = 0.18 and r = 0.22, p's < 0.05). CONCLUSIONS: The latent factor structure was similar across two significantly different independent samples and across low and high energy dense snack foods. In addition, the amplitude of the demand curve, but not persistence, was related to BMI. These results suggest specific aspects of food reinforcement that can be targeted to alter food intake.


  • Epstein, Leonard H
  • Stein, Jeffrey S
  • Paluch, Rocco A
  • MacKillop, James
  • Bickel, Warren K

publication date

  • January 2018