main article image
p_ponomareva/Shutterstock

New Research Suggests You Make Better Decisions When You're Hungry

A new study suggests that you have a better perception of rewards on an empty stomach, which could lead to making better long-term decisions.

SCIENCEALERT STAFF
3 NOV 2014

You might think that it's better to be well-fed rather than starving when you're trying to make a big, life-changing decision, but new research suggests quite the opposite. 'Hot states' - a term used to describe a high level of emotion caused by something like hunger - actually improve your ability to make long-term decisions. 

 

Researchers from Utrecht University in the Netherlands conducted three separate experiments on a group of students to test whether hunger led to advantageous strategic decision-making. In all experiments, the students were split up into two groups - fasting and non-fasting. The fasting participants ate nothing for approximately 10 hours before taking a test, while the non-fasting group was treated to a generous breakfast, where they were free to eat and drink as much as they wanted. 

In the first two experiments, the students played the ‘Iowa gambling task’, a card game that mirrors complex real-life decision-making related to gambling that involves various risks and rewards. Interestingly, the fasting group performed better than the non-fasting group, managing to understand the pattern of long-term rewards over short-term gains.

These results, the team reports in the journal PLOS One, “show that people who were hungry because of having fasted overnight performed better on a complex decision task than sated people and thus provides a first piece of evidence that the hot state of hunger improves, rather than compromises, advantageous decision making."

In the third experiment, the participants were presented with a set of questions that required them to choose between being given a small amount of money at that moment or a larger amount of money in the future. This experiment supported the findings of the first two experiments, as the fasting participants opted for the larger amount of money in the future, whereas non-fasting participants were more likely to choose the first option. 

The evidence suggests that the “hot state of hunger promoted rather than compromised complex decisions with uncertain outcomes that are advantageous in the long run as hungry participants were better able to resist (hypothetical) choices that brought immediate big (but not medium or small) rewards but were ultimately disadvantageous,” write the authors.

This is the first study that challenges previous research suggesting that hot states tend to compromise decision-making, but the team notes that further research is required before drawing to any concrete conclusions about the impact of emotions on the decision-making process.

"Hunger and appetite do not necessarily make people more impulsive, but rather make them rely more on gut feeling, which benefits complex decisions with uncertain outcomes," the authors report. "Alternatively, it may be that hot states do increase impulsivity, but that impulsivity is not necessarily bad."

While the study isn’t making any conclusions just yet, perhaps it isn’t such a bad thing to make big decisions when your stomach is grumbling - excluding food related choices, of course. 

Source: PLOS One