Life

This is why you should never make big decisions when you’re hungry

Posted by
Megan Murray
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New research has shown how feeling hungry can have a monumental impact on our decision-making skills. 

Have you ever done your weekly supermarket shop while peckish? Suddenly a trolley that should have amounted to your normal food budget has somehow doubled in size and price thanks to this frenzied, famished version of yourself, who’s spent the last half an hour clawing snacks from the shelves like a survival special of Supermarket Sweep. We’ve all been there.

The lesson: don’t go food shopping when you’re hungry. But did you know that we’d all do well to extend this lesson out of Tesco, and into the other facets of our lives, too? In fact, research has shown that making any sort of decision when we’re in need of some sustenance is a clanger because it causes us to act impatiently and settle for a result that’s poorer than could be achieved.

The study carried out by Dr Benjamin Vincent from the University of Dundee’s Psychology department experimented with people’s decision-making skills when they had skipped a meal, asking them questions that related both to food, but also financial rewards.

He and former student Jordan Skrynka tested 50 participants twice, once when they had eaten normally and once when they hadn’t eaten that day.   

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But, what Vincent found interesting is people who are hungry still tend to be as equally impatient no matter the topic – even when it means getting a smaller financial gain sooner than holding out for a larger financial gain. Researchers noted that if a person had eaten they were usually happy to get double a reward in 35 days, whereas if they were hungry this plummeted to three days.

Researchers noted that if a person had eaten they were usually happy to get double a reward in 35 days, whereas if they were hungry this plummeted to three days.

Vincent found the results troubling. He feels that people could “potentially be exploited by marketers” and so it’s imperative that we know about this pitfall to avoid being manipulated. 

He says: “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. 

Want better decision making skills? Eat the cake.

“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 more rosy future.”

He hopes to “empower” people with this knowledge, so that they may “foresee and mitigate the effects of hunger, for example, that might bias their decision making away from their long-term goals.”

Vincent also notes that he feels worried by reports of how many children go to school without having eaten breakfast or the amount of people who are on restricted calorie diets and that this could be impacting our decision making as a nation.

So, if there was ever a reason to pick up that bloody biscuit tin, this is it.

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Megan Murray

Megan Murray is a digital journalist for stylist.co.uk, who enjoys writing about London happenings, beautiful places, delicious morsels and generally spreading sparkle wherever she can.

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