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Imagine a few common stressful situations that we all go through:

  • Being struck in traffic
  • Having to wait for a bus, train...
  • Going through security/immigration control at an airport

Purely an anecdotal observation: People tend to seek comfort in some form to handle such encounters - typically immediately afterwards. Quite often it takes the form of snacking, drinking, dining, binging...

My question is this: Anecdotal observations aside, are there any studies that have attempted to correlate the magnitude of the stress with the likelihood of the comfort-seeking behavior?

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Droid here are a couple of relevant studies:

Experiments with rodents done by Kent Berridge found that:

  • Stressed rats will expend more energy on obtaining pleasurable relief (in the form of food) than non-stressed rats. But only to familiar foods

Peciña, S., Schulkin, J., & Berridge, K.C. (2006). Nucleus accumbens corticotropin-releasing factor increases cue-triggered motivation for sucrose reward: Paradoxical positive incentive effects in stress

  • Experiments with stressed exam students done by Wendy Wood et al found that stress amplified the hedonic habitual approaches already used by students (so basically it made them seek out more of the HABIT though not the reward, to relieve stress and regain comfort.

Neal, D.T., Wood, W., & Drolet, A. (2013). How do people adhere to goals when willpower is low? The profits (and pitfalls) of strong habits. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

In short it seems that our default response to stress (and subsequent comfort seeking) is to seek out a FAMILIAR rewarding habit (E.g. having a coffee at Starbucks, if that’s a habit) than a non-habitual reward. (So comfort seeking is Pavlovian not strictly hedonic)

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks - useful answer, enough to put me on the right track. I will keep the bounty open for a bit longer before accepting this answer. $\endgroup$ – DroidOS Nov 26 at 7:12

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