Study finds hunger leads to poor decision-making

  17 September 2019    Read: 1096
Study finds hunger leads to poor decision-making

If your stomach is grumbling when you’re making a big decision, you’d be better off pausing to get a snack, a new study suggests.

Scientists at the University of Dundee in Scotland recently found that hunger changed people’s decision-making skills. According to their research, people who are hungry are more likely to make poor decisions than those who are satiated. 

The study, published in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review on September 13, tested a phenomenon known as delay discounting among 50 participants (28 female and 22 male). The average age of the participants in the study was 21.7. 

Delay discounting is a phenomenon in which people opt for smaller rewards in the present rather than larger rewards in the future.

The concept of delay discounting was tested in a well-known study in which children were told they could have one marshmallow immediately or two marshmallows if they were willing to wait 15 minutes. The study found that students who opted to eat just one marshmallow immediately were more impulsive than those who were willing to wait. 

In the new study, researchers asked participants who were full or hungry whether they would prefer to obtain a smaller quantity of food, money and music downloads now or wait for a greater quantity in the future. 

The results revealed that satiated people were willing to wait 35 days for double the amount of food in the future, while hungry participants were only willing to wait three days. Similarly, satiated people were willing to wait 90 days for more money, while hungry participants were only willing to wait 40 days. Hungry people were only willing to wait 12 days to receive more music downloads, while satiated people were willing to wait 40 days.

“We wanted to know whether being in a state of hunger had a specific effect on how you make decisions only relating to food or if it had broader effects, and this research suggests decision-making gets more present-focused when people are hungry,” said study author Benjamin Vincent in a September 16 statement. 

“This work fits into a larger effort in psychology and behavioural economics to map the factors that influence our decision making. This potentially empowers people, as they may foresee and mitigate the effects of hunger, for example, that might bias their decision making away from their long-term goals,” he added.


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