College of Psychology: Faculty Articles


Food Priming: A Therapeutic Tool to Increase the Percentage of Meals Bought By Chronic Mental Patient

Document Type


Publication Date



Chronic Disease, Feeding Behavior, Motivation, Schizophrenia

Publication Title

Behaviour Research and Therapy








In a motivating ward environment for schizophrenics, three methods of maximizing food as an effective reinforcer were tested. On the basis of pre-treatment measures, patients were classified as (1) “non-chronic meal missers” who served as control patients (Group A), (2) “chronic meal missers” because they had no tokens (Group B), or (3) “chronic meal missers” because they chose not to eat but had tokens (Group C). One of the following three experimental treatments was then administered when a patient missed a meal : (1) visual food priming (observing others eat), (2) oral food priming (sampling one teaspoon of each type of food for that meal), and (3) free meal (being offered a free meal when it was missed). Oral and visual food priming were found to be equally effective in increasing the percentage of meals bought by patients. A post-treatment follow-up for Group B found that this increase was even greater during the follow-up phase. The percentage of meals bought by patients in the free meal condition of Group B decreased during the treatment phase but was significantly above pre-treatment measures during the follow-up phase, suggesting that complete reinforcer sampling may also be an effective technique for increasing the percentage of meals bought.


This investigation was supported (in part) by California Department of Mental Hygiene Grant No. RP-69-11-16. The opinions or conclusions stated in this paper are those of the authors and are not to be construed as official or as necessarily reflecting the policy of the Department of Mental Hygiene.