MSc student projects

The Nutritional Neuroscience Lab does functional MRI research related to food evaluation (sight, taste) and food choice. Motivated students with a background in nutrition, psychology, psychiatry or a related field are welcome to do a literature study or internship depending on background, motivation and availability. Currently available projects are listed below. There might be other projects available at the Division of Human Nutrition and Health of Wageningen University, for these contact Paul Smeets.

fMRI study on food choice and reward learning in healthy weight and obese subjects
Type: Thesis (6 months or longer)
When? In mutual consultation. Data collection ends around March 2019.
What? In Sept 2017 data collection for a new fMRI study has started. In this study we investigate the neural correlates of food choice in normal weight and obese women. In normal weight individuals it has been shown that during choice relevant attributes of the food (e.g., tastiness, healthiness) are integrated into a value signal encoded in the vmPFC. Taking into account not only the direct reward (tastiness) but also the longer term goals related to food (e.g., losing weight, eating healthy) requires modulation of the vmPFC signal by dlPFC. Obese compared to healthy weight have stronger activation in areas related to reward processing when viewing palatable high energy food cues but it is unknown how neural mechanisms underlying food choice differ between normal weight and obese individuals. Is obesity associated with a fundamental difference in the processes of valuation, such that the consideration of the healthiness of foods plays a smaller role in valuation in people who are obese than in people who are lean? This study is set out to investigate whether neural indices of value in vmPFC differs between lean and obese individuals. Furthermore, it will be investigated to what extent the healthiness of foods contributes to the neural computation of the value of foods and whether a lack of dlPFC to vmPFC downregulation could explain obese individuals’ preference for high energy foods.
The study is executed at the UMC Utrecht. Tasks will include literature search, writing a research proposal, preparing materials and tasks, analysing data and writing a report (in concept article form). The student will contribute to subject recruitment and will assist during the scan sessions.
Contact: Paul Smeets


The Nutritional Neuroscience Lab is affiliated with the Image Sciences Institute of the UMC Utrecht, The Netherlands.