Study find making decisions when hungry is a bad idea.
If you receive a job offer and aren’t sure whether to accept it or not, don’t make any rash decisions. Have a snack first.
New research from the University of Dundee suggests that making important decisions about the future on an empty stomach is a bad idea.
Hunger makes you impatient and likely to settle
The study, led by Dr. Benjamin Vincent from the University’s Psychology department, found that hunger made people impatient, which significantly altered their decision making, as they were more likely to settle for a smaller reward that would arrive sooner than a larger one that would arrive later.
For the study, 50 participants were asked questions relating to food, money, and other rewards, once when hey had eaten, and again when they had not eaten anything that day. It won’t surprise most people to learn that hungry people were more likely to settle for smaller food rewards that arrived sooner. But the researchers also found that being hungry doesn’t only affect food-related decisions, but also non-food-related decisions.
Satiated subjects were willing to hold out much longer for a bigger payoff
They found that “if you offer people a reward now or double that reward in the future, they were normally willing to wait for 35 days to double the reward, but when hungry this plummeted to only 3 days.”
According to a media release, this indicates that a reluctance to defer gratification may carry over into other kinds of decisions. Like whether to take out a mortgage loan.
Dr. Vincent is quoted as saying, “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. 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.
“This work fits into a larger effort in psychology and behavioural economics to map the factors that influence our decision making. This potentially empowers people as they may foresee and mitigate the effects of hunger, for example, that might bias their decision making away from their long term goals.”
Like when deciding whether to take that job you don’t really want but that is on the table right now, or to wait for a better offer.
Vincent also said, “You would predict that hunger would impact people’s preferences relating to food, but it is not yet clear why people get more present-focused for completely unrelated rewards.”
Reminiscent of the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment
The study is reminiscent of the ever so famous Stanford Marshmallow Experiment from the 1970s, in which children were offered a choice between one small reward provided immediately (sometimes a marshmallow but other times a pretzel or cookie) or two small rewards if they waited approximately 15 minutes, during which time the tester left the room and then returned.
The kids who ate the initial offering were classed as more impulsive than those who waited for the larger reward. And those who waited were found to have better life outcomes in follow up. Subsequent criticism and research, however, has called those findings into question and suggests that the results are more nuanced than they appear. There has been suggestion that both economic background and the test environment may have plated a role in the children’s decisions. And, while I can’t find any readily available information on whether they had eaten prior to the test, it seems possible that some of them were also just hungrier than others.
Anyway, it seems like a smart idea not to make any rash career decisions on an empty stomach.