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Research

Fania Dassen

Position
PhD student

E-mail
f.dassen@maastrichtuniversity.nl

Themes

  • - Cognitive processes and biases
  • - Executive functioning & cognitive control
  • - Interventions, treatment
  • - Obesity
  • - Reward value of eating
  • - Weight loss & dieting

Research

After completing the Bachelor Psychology in Maastricht and the Master Health Psychology at the University of Nijmegen, I started as a PhD-student at the “eating group” in April 2014.

Why is it so difficult to resist the temptation of delicious food, and how can we make this easier? My research focuses on training of cognitive control for overweight people, to make it easier to lose weight and eventually maintain this weight loss. We want to achieve this improved self-control through the training of executive functions. Executive functions are seen as our “control system” and ensure that we, for example, are able to think ahead, delay gratification, stay focused on our goal and can resist temptations. These functions are located prefrontal in our brain. Research has shown that overweight people have trouble with these functions and achieve lower scores on cognitive tasks. Can we improve these functions, and thereby increase self-control? In addition, we wonder whether this training should focus on executive functions in general, or should we design specific tasks related to overeating and eating habits, to make this training as effective as possible?

Executive functions are divided into the main functions working memory, inhibition, and flexible thinking. The idea is to develop a specific training for each (main) function, and test its effectivity first. One problem with all these cognitive training programs is that they are often boring for participants. By developing game-versions, we hope to make it more motivating and thus easier to persevere. The ultimate goal of my project would be to combine all these specific trainings in the end into one effective training.

Education

With much pleasure I’m involved in the education at this faculty. You can encounter me as a tutor in various courses (including Bad habits, Health Psychology, Research: How to do it, Psychodiagnostics).

I am also very happy to supervise students who want to write their thesis on a topic related to my field of research. This can be a literature study, but students who want to design and execute an own (small) study are also very welcome.

Examples of possible topics include obesity, eating behavior, executive functions (working memory, inhibition, set shifting), impulsivity, future orientation, delay of gratification, general or eating-specific problems, self-control and effectiveness of training. I’m also open for own suggestions.

Publications

  • Houben, K., Dassen, F. C. M., & Jansen, A. (in press). Taking control: Working memory training in overweight individuals increases self-regulation of food intake. Appetite.
  • Dassen, F.C.M., Jansen, A., Nederkoorn, C., Houben, K. (2016). Focus on the future: Episodic future thinking reduces discount rate and snacking. Appetite, 96, 327–332.
  • Nederkoorn, C., Dassen, F.C.M.,  Franken, L., Resch, C., Houben, K. (2015). Impulsivity and overeating in children in the absence and presence of hunger. Appetite, 93, 57-61.
  • Dassen, F.C.M., Houben, K., Jansen, A. (2015). Time orientation and eating behavior: unhealthy eaters consider immediate consequences, while healthy eaters focus on future health. Appetite, 91, 13–19.