Psychology Ph.D. Dissertations

The Impact of Trait Cognitive Defusion and Cue Elaboration on Chocolate Craving and Cognitive Resources

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Dara Musher-Eizenman (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Abby Braden (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Hyunsuk Choo (Other)

Fourth Advisor

William O'Brien (Committee Member)


Chocolate cravings are among the most prevalent type of food craving in the U.S., especially among women. Although not inherently pathological, food cravings are related to a variety of detrimental outcomes, such as increased calorie intake, difficulty managing weight, disordered eating, anxiety, and depression. The Elaborated Intrusion theory of desire (EI theory; Kavanagh, Andrade, & May, 2005) explains that food craving arises from spontaneous intrusions (e.g., emotions, sight or smell of food) that may initiate increasingly vivid and intense mental imagery about the craved item. Further, Cognitive Theory (Tiffany, 1990) proposes that thinking about and managing food cravings expends cognitive resources. This dissertation examined the relationship between specific types of food cravings (simple versus elaborated), a facet of mindfulness (cognitive defusion), and impacts on state craving intensity and cognitive resources (working memory). Results showed that trait mindfulness (trait cognitive defusion) may moderate the relationship between food craving level and working memory processing speed. Individuals with low levels of cognitive defusion, or the ability to distance oneself from reactions to external and internal cues for craving, were significantly slowed down on a working memory task when they were exposed to a more elaborate chocolate craving cue. In contrast, individuals high on trait cognitive defusion demonstrated slow responses across levels of craving cues, perhaps reflecting a slow and thoughtful response style, but were not impacted by craving elaboration. Further, individuals low on cognitive defusion demonstrated increased state chocolate cravings post-craving cue compared to individuals with higher cognitive defusion, regardless of level of craving elaboration cue. The present research built upon existing literature regarding the salutary effects of mindfulness on cognitive resources toward understanding effective ways individuals can manage chocolate cravings. However, these two study findings diverged from hypothesized relationships, for example that high trait mindfulness at all levels of craving elaboration cue was not found to be related to superior working memory capacity. Reasons for unpredicted findings are discussed and include stimuli and study design characteristics and alternative applications of EI and Cognitive Theories for craving.