Identifying the role of different personality traits on the relationship between stress and food choice
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Research shows that high levels of stress correlate with higher consumption of high- fat and high-sugar snack-type foods, particularly amongst women. However, it has been observed that not all individuals are vulnerable to this pattern of ‘stress-related’ eating. Both stress and dietary habits have been strongly correlated with specific personality traits but previous research has neglected to observe whether personality traits significantly affect correlations between perceived stress and types of foods consumed. Personality (Openness, Conscientiousness and Neuroticism) was predicted to moderate the strength of the relationship between stress and diet. A sample population of self-selected young adults between 18-30 years old (N=196) completed an online questionnaire, including a Perceived Stress Scale, the International Personality Item Pool, and a 12-item Food Frequency questionnaire which measured frequencies of eating different food groups, pertaining to the last month. Exercise frequency and intensity were also measured. Correlational and regression analyses showed support for previous findings concerning the relationships between stress, diet and personality. Stress and only Openness were significantly related to diet in women. Personality was not found to moderate the relationship between stress and food intake as hypothesised. Openness significantly predicted lower levels of unhealthy eating when controlling for stress and both Neuroticism and Conscientiousness removed the significance of stress as a predictor, but were not significant predictors themselves. The results demonstrate that the relationship between stress and unhealthy eating was therefore spurious, identifying personality (specifically Openness) as a significant confound. As exercise was also found to significantly predict diet, it was concluded that personality traits were more strongly predictive of diet through associations with general health behaviours. Characteristics of personality traits believed to commonly affect stress and diet separately (e.g. self-efficacy) are discussed.