You’re Not Smart When You’re Hungry

Got an important decision to make? Don’t skip brekkie.

Snickers ads have been telling us for years, but now scientists have plonked down some cold hard evidence: you actually aren’t at your best when you’re hungry.

Researchers from the University of Dundee found that hunger significantly altered people’s decision-making for the worse, even if the decisions were unrelated to food.

It turns out that screaming “I don’t care, just get me a focaccia!” is no way to conclude a delicate financial transaction.

This is no time to make rash decisions.
This is no time to make rash decisions.

50 participants were tested twice – once when they had eaten normally and once when they’d not eaten anything that day.

When offered a reward now or double the reward in the future, people who weren’t hungry were willing to wait an average of 35 days for the increased payout.

But when hungry, this average wait time plummeted to three days.

And while this isn’t surprising for food-based rewards (no-one’s going to wait 35 days for two of those delicious chocolate bikkies, nom nom nom), the research found that the same thing happened when the subjects were offered rewards entirely unrelated to food.

But then, maybe they were just focused on anything that they could sell to pay for sustenance.

Lead researcher Dr Benjamin Vincent said while there was a common belief that you shouldn’t go food shopping when you’re starving, the results were broader.

"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 adviser - doing so while hungry might make you care a bit more about immediate gratification at the expense of a potentially more rosy future."

The experiment was based on a classic psychological study which tested how impulsive children were, and so suggests hunger makes people more impulsive in general. (Not to mention more like a young child in their decision-making.)

She’s not waiting five minutes for TWO bits of bread.
She’s not waiting five minutes for TWO bits of bread.

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So if anyone reading this is feeling famished, let’s give you some advice: go eat something. The Magic Food Fairies aren’t coming any time soon.