The reason why you overindulge in snacks may be coming into focus.

Getting distracted during a meal may leave you feeling dissatisfied — you might make up for it by eating more food later, a study published Thursday in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology finds.

“Overconsumption often results due to a lack of self-control,” said lead study author Stephen Lee Murphy, of Ghent University in Belgium. “However, our findings suggest overconsumption may also often be driven by the simple human desire to reach a certain level of enjoyment from an activity. When distraction gets in the way, it’s likely we may try to compensate by consuming more.”

Murphy’s team first zeroed in on the overconsumption of food. 122 people (mostly young women 18 to 24 years old) were asked how much they expected to enjoy a lunch before eating it.

They were then directed to eat under one of three conditions: without distraction, moderate distraction (watching a video), and major distraction (playing Tetris).

After lunch, participants shared how much they ate, how much they enjoyed the meal, how satisfied they felt, and whether they wanted further gratification. They also recorded their snacking later in the day.

Participants who ate while distracted reported less enjoyment and satisfaction, an elevated desire for further gratification, and increased snacking afterward.

Researchers call this phenomenon “hedonic compensation” — making up for the loss of pleasure by seeking extra gratification elsewhere.

Murphy’s team theorized this effect goes beyond food and can be seen when people are distracted while watching a movie or playing a game — as a result, they may be more likely to engage in additional media consumption such as checking social media.

Murphy and his colleagues plan to replicate and confirm the existence of the hedonic compensation effect to devise ways to combat overconsumption.

“By understanding the key drivers of hedonic overconsumption, we can develop strategies to help prevent its occurrence,” Murphy said.

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