December 9/London/Northwestern University -- Guilt heightens a woman’s enjoyment of sweet treats like chocolates rather than detracting them from it, researchers have found.

A study of women discovered that they are more likely to enjoy food if they think it is bad for them.

Researchers said one might assume a woman’s enjoyment of sweet treats like chocolate would be marred by the depressing mantra, “a minute on the lips and a lifetime on the hips”.

However, according to the study, the very guilt associated with indulging in forbidden foods can in fact enhance women’s enjoyment of them, the Daily Mail reported.

Researchers discovered that, by feeling guilty, we are "priming" ourselves to take more pleasure in something which we consider to be illicit.

They said that in a weight-obsessed culture women take great delight in indulging in things that are considered to be “sinful.”

In the study, led by Kelly Goldsmith, of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Chicago, 40 women were split into two equal groups, with one-half looking at “healthy living” magazines with pictures of individuals looking slim and fit.

The other half were asked to look at magazines with pictures unrelated to well-being.

All 40 were then given a chocolate bar and asked how much they enjoyed the experience. "Those who had read the healthy living magazine reported that they liked the sweets 16% more than those who did not,” Goldsmith said.

“If you advertise your product as being 'guilt-free' what it could implicitly do is lower taste perception by lowering the expectation of pleasure. If you take the guilt out of it, people might not expect it to be as good.

“Let people benefit from the intrigue and pleasure and enjoy their experience more,” she said.

Goldsmith said the findings showed that “experiencing the emotion of guilt can increase pleasure.”

She warned that the same principle applied to other, more harmful guilty pleasures such as smoking and drinking.