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Processus développementaux impliqués dans l’évolution de la néophobie alimentaire chez le jeune enfant

Abstract : Food neophobia is a reluctance to taste and/or the rejection of unknown foods. It has a negative impact on the diversity of the child's food repertoire and on the family dynamic during meals. The objective of our study, within a developmental perspective, is to answer three questions that remain insufficiently addressed in the scientific literature concerning this behavior: 1/ does food neophobia suddenly emerge at 2 years old; 2/ if so, what are the developmental processes involved in this evolution? ; 3/ how is food neophobia linked with pickiness (the reluctance to taste unfamiliar ingredients) and picky eating (the rejection of both unfamiliar and familiar foods, assorted with strong food preferences)?Through the use of questionnaires, we assessed: 1/ Food neophobia in terms of prevalence and intensity; 2/ Some developmental skills that are likely to explain its evolution in the motor, praxic, linguistic and psycho-affective spheres; these skills have been determined on the basis of temporal (synchronous evolution) and functional (theoretical and psychological links) arguments; 3/ The different behaviors it is frequently confused with: pickiness and picky eating. Our research sample was composed of 432 subjects aged between 3 and 60 months old.Our results showed that food neophobia was a normal period during childhood. The prevalence of food neophobia was 57% and was moderate intense between 3 and 6 months; it increased significantly in terms of prevalence and intensity between 19 and 36 months, with 90% of children affected by this condition at this age, then it stabilized until 60 months old. Based on this evolution, we have proposed a developmental model of food neophobia that can be divided in two phases: 1/ A primary neophobia common to infants and animals, that is mostly related to the perception of a new textures or flavors which relies on intuitive thinking processes; 2/ Secondary neophobia, that is based on children development around 2 years old, and that largely relies on food’s visual aspect and involves more elaborate cognitive processes.We did not identify the developmental processes that are responsible for its evolution between 19 and 36 months. Several methodological and theoretical explanations have been considered to justify this lack of results such as the existence of an intermediate phase during the skills acquisition period or the involvement of other psychological or neurobiological mechanisms that have not been measured for this study. In addition, we found an entanglement of developmental processes measured around 2 years. All the progress made by the child over a short period seem to converge in the same direction, that of autonomy: a motor autonomy, with the ability to walk and eat alone, and a psychic autonomy, with self-awareness and the opposition phase. In this context, language development would allow the child to express his/her individuality through the assertion of his preferences and needs. Furthermore, the ability to express verbal demands and the acquisition of self-awareness have been the closest things to our hypothesis validation criteria. As a result, we can ask whether the increase in food neophobia around 2 years is aimed at protecting the child from possible poisoning at a time when he is becoming more and more autonomous and/or if he simply reflects individuation attempts.
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Virginie Soulet. Processus développementaux impliqués dans l’évolution de la néophobie alimentaire chez le jeune enfant. Psychologie. Université de Nanterre - Paris X, 2018. Français. ⟨NNT : 2018PA100164⟩. ⟨tel-02441778⟩

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