Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


40th Annual Convention; Chicago, IL; 2014

Event Details

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B. F. Skinner Lecture Series Paper Session #269
CE Offered: BACB

Not-So-Sweet Revenge--Unintended Consequences of Artificial Sweeteners

Sunday, May 25, 2014
4:00 PM–4:50 PM
W375e (McCormick Place Convention Center)
Area: SCI; Domain: Basic Research
CE Instructor: Erin B. Rasmussen, Ph.D.
Chair: Erin B. Rasmussen (Idaho State University)
SUSIE SWITHERS (Purdue University)
Dr. Susie Swithers is a professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences at Purdue University. Her work examines how learning and experience affect the development of controls of ingestive behavior, using rats as a model system. Her recent studies have used concepts derived from basic Pavlovian conditioning to understand how changing the relationship between food cues and calories might contribute to disruptions in energy balance, as well as how exposure to high fat diets might disrupt basic learning processes that normally contribute to the inhibition of food intake. Dr. Swithers received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia and a Ph.D. in behavioral neuroscience from Duke University. She joined the faculty at Purdue as an assistant professor in 1995 and helped found Purdue’s Ingestive Behavior Research Center. She has received awards from the International Society for Developmental Psychobiology and the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research and recently completed service as the chair of the National Institutes of Health Biobehavioral Regulation, Learning, and Ethology Study Section.  

One solution that has been proposed to combat the ongoing obesity epidemic has been to replace caloric sugars with artificial sweeteners that provide sweet tastes without providing the associated calories. While such an idea seems to be common sense, scientific data supporting artificial sweeteners as beneficial for weight loss are weak. Further, more recent epidemiological data from long-term studies in a variety of human cohorts have indicated that daily consumption of artificial sweeteners may exacerbate metabolic disturbances like Type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and stroke. One explanation for such a counterintuitive result is that consuming sweet tastes without typical post-ingestive outcomes could interfere with basic learning processes that normally operate to regulate energy balance. Using data from an animal model, work from Dr. Swithers' lab has explored how interfering with predictive relations between tastes and calories may contribute to negative health outcomes. The results suggest that obesity and its attendant co-morbidities are unlikely to be helped by consuming "diet" foods manufactured with sugar substitutes.

Keyword(s): artificial sweeteners , energy balance, obesity, Pavlovian conditioning



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