A new research study carried out by Dr Benjamin Vincent from University of Dundee, suggested that people might want to avoid making important decisions for the future on an empty stomach. The study carried out from the university’s Psychology department found that hunger tends to alter a person’s decision-making, thus making them impatient and more likely to settle for a small reward that would arrive earlier than a comparatively larger reward that is promised at a later date.
Participants in the experiment conducted by Dr Vincent were asked questions related to food or money and were promised to be rewarded when satiated and all of this when they had skipped a meal. It was concluded that hungry people were more likely to smaller incentives that arrived sooner and that being hungry changes preferences for rewards that are even entirely unrelated to food.
This indicates if you are unwilling to defer gratification then it may carry over into your other decisions, such as financial and personal ones. Therefore, it is necessary for people to know that hunger might affect their preferences in way they will not realise. There is also a possibility that people experiencing hunger due to poverty may make decisions that will jeopardise their situation.
"We found there was a large effect, people's preferences shifted dramatically from the long to short term when hungry," Dr Vincent said. "This is an aspect of human behaviour which could potentially be exploited by marketers so people need to know their preferences may change when hungry. People generally know that when they are hungry they shouldn't really go food shopping because they are more likely to make choices that are either unhealthy or indulgent. Our research suggests this could have an impact on other kinds of decisions as well. Say you were going to speak with a pensions or mortgage advisor -- doing so while hungry might make you care a bit more about immediate gratification at the expense of a potentially rosier future.”
Dr Vincent along with his co-author and former student Jordan Skrynka tested 50 participants twice-once when they had eaten normally and once having not eaten anything the entire day.
When hungry, people expressed a stronger preference for a smaller reward that is to be given immediately rather than larger ones that would arrive later. The researchers noted that if you offer people a reward now or double that reward in the future, they were willing to wait for 40 days to double that reward, but when hungry this plunged down to only 3 to 4 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, and this research suggests decision-making gets more present-focused when people are hungry," said Dr Vincent.
“Hunger is so common that it is important to understand the non-obvious ways in which our preferences and decisions may be affected by it”, he concluded.