You probably learned the hard way to never grocery shop on an empty stomach, that is, unless you want a cart full of pizza rolls and potato chips. But it turns out hunger doesn’t just lead to unhealthy decision making in the supermarket. Hunger can lead to poor long-term decision making in other areas, too.
The study was recently published in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.
Researchers set out to understand whether being hungry had an affect not just on decisions about food, but on money and music, too.
Participants fasted for 10 hours prior to the study, then they were asked whether they would prefer food, money, or music now, or a greater amount of that item in the future.
For anyone who has ever felt hungry, the results aren’t too surprising.
Indeed, researchers found that being hungry led participants to make different choices, no matter the topic. For instance, the control group (people who were not hungry) was willing to wait 35 days to receive twice as much food, whereas the hungry participants were only willing to wait three days.
For money, hungry participants reported they would only wait 40 days for twice as much money. The control group would wait 90 days.
For music downloads, participants would wait 40 days for twice as many downloads. The control group would wait 12 days.
Researchers determined that the effect of hunger on a person’s decision to wait for extra food is very strong, while hunger’s effect on money and music are both moderately strong.
The takeaway? When people are hungry, they become focused on short-term rewards.
This study is important because its effects have real-life consequences. For example, car or home shopping, or meeting with your financial investor while hungry could lead you to make shortsighted decisions.
Children who go to school hungry and those who fast for weight loss or religious reasons are also vulnerable to the effects.
Of course, for people who are living with chronic hunger are particularly at risk for hunger-drive poor decisions. Poverty already causes a stressful situation — hunger may just further compound the issue.
So if you can help it, don’t grocery shop hungry — but don’t do anything else hungry either.