Study: Being hangry blinds us to the future, ruins lives

Photo: Milkos (iStock)

Everyone knows you shouldn’t grocery shop hungry, lest you want to end up with nothing but three boxes of Cheez-Its and a gallon of chocolate milk in your cart. But a new study shows that making any kind of decision on an empty stomach—not just food-related ones—isn’t a great idea.

The study was conducted by Dr. Benjamin Vincent of the University of Dundee in Scotland and published in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. It examines delay discounting, the phenomenon where folks opt for smaller rewards sooner over bigger rewards later. (You know that experiment where kids are offered either one marshmallow now or two marshmallows 15 minutes from now? It’s that.) Participants were asked to make a series of decisions while full, then again after fasting for 10 hours. Unsurprisingly, the amount of time participants were willing to wait for food plummeted while they were hungry. (See: grocery shopping on an empty stomach.) But they were also less patient regarding everything from money to music downloads while hungry.

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“We found there was a large effect, people’s preferences shifted dramatically from the long to short term when hungry,” Vincent said, adding the research “suggests decision-making gets more present-focused when people are hungry.” That is, being famished doesn’t just make us need food now; more broadly, it blinds us to thinking about the long-term. It makes us forget the future is even a thing.

Our takeaway? Set yourself up for maximum success by eating constantly. Suck down a Frosty during that big meeting. Whip up a batch of nachos for your next relationship heart-to-heart. Bring a Big Mac in tow while house-hunting. For the sake of your financial future, your creative nourishment, your romantic entanglements, get that extra order of fries, damn it!

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