Undergrad studies how mindfulness, self control affect eating

Celebration of Student Research and Creativity is April 3

Photo of Eric Barreau sitting in a meditation pose and holding an apple and a piece of cake.

Eric Barreau, a UW-L senior and psychology major, will share his research on how self control impacts eating behavior during the Celebration of Student Research and Creativity Friday, April 3, in Cartwright Center. It will be one of 30 oral presentations. The event also includes 127 student poster displays and three visual arts exhibits.

If you’ve ever struggled to resist a piece of chocolate cake, get up when the alarm goes off or quit smoking, you might be interested in what UW-L student Eric Barreau has to say about your brain.

Barreau, a psychology major, has been studying self control for more than a year. He’ll present his research on how self control impacts eating behavior during the Celebration of Student Research and Creativity Friday, April 3, at UW-L. He’ll then take his research to the Midwest Psychological Association Conference in Chicago and the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in Cheney, Washington, later in April.

“In my future career, I’d like to do clinical psychology work, research and teach,” says Barreau. “These presentations are really great exposure to what my professional life will be like. Also, it will be a great way to network with people in the field that I’m interested in.”

Thirty students will present their research at the Celebration of Student Research & Creativity on topics from microbiology to modern language. In addition to oral presentations, the celebration includes 127 student poster displays and three visual arts exhibits.

The campus is welcome to attend the oral presentations from 8:30 a.m. to 12:10 Friday, April 3, in rooms on the third floor of Cartwright Center. Poster presentations will be from 9-12:45 in Valhalla, Cartwright Center-Gunning Addition.

Presenting scientific results in front of a crowd of peers and faculty is something Barreau says pushes him out of his comfort zone, but faculty mentorship has given him the confidence to do it. His faculty adviser has been available to him throughout the entire research process from submitting grant applications to practicing his research presentation.

“I’m very pro undergrad research,” says Barreau. “I’ve learned a ton about conducting research and the administrative side of research from managing grant funds to working with research assistants.”

Barreau credits research with helping him discover his intense passion to continue studying self control — which is now a component of his career goals. Barreau lights up when he begins explaining what self control research is all about. He describes the initial study that piqued his interest. It was results of research from universities in Texas and Oregon that showed a group of subjects who practiced mindfulness meditation and ultimately reduced the amount of cigarettes they smoked by 60 percent on average. “I found that just fascinating,” he says.

“People think they either have willpower or they don’t. That’s simply not true. Some have more than others and it’s a limited resource that people can lose,” Barreau says. “It all boils down to the blood glucose levels in the brain.”

Barreau decided to study whether mindfulness meditation could restore people’s self-control and increase mindful eating behaviors. After administering a test he found to deplete self control, Barreau gave half of his subjects brief mindfulness training and gave a control group connect the dot figures to complete. Then, both groups were given a mindfulness test and candy to assess if their self control had been restored and if it affected the amount of candy they ate.

Although the results didn’t show a difference between the groups in the quantity they ate, it did show the test group had more mindfulness than the control group while eating.

Barreau plans to continue on to graduate school for clinical health psychology and continue researching self control.

“I know that mindfulness has an application for various aspects of health, so I’d like to help teach people how they can use it and how it can impact their lives,” he says.