SAN FRANCISCO — A new PLOS ONE study shows that individuals who are hungry make more advantageous decisions about uncertain outcomes.
PLOS ONE evaluated the hypothesis that hunger promotes good decision-making, and conducted three similar experiments which found that college students who were hungry while making risky decisions made more successful decisions than those who weren't.
“In order to make decisions that are advantageous in the long run, people must recognize the risk of loss when being tempted by a bigger reward,” the researchers wrote in the study. “Our findings show that people in a hot (emotional) state are better able to do so.”
In the first experiment, 30 college students fasted for approximately 10 hours, and then were randomly assigned to take part in the Iowa Gambling Task either before or after they ate breakfast.
In the Iowa Gambling Task, participants were presented with four decks of cards labeled A, B, C and D with the knowledge that decks A and B rewarded them 100 Euros per card, while C and D rewarded just 50 Euros.
However, decks A and B also offered random penalty cards, with higher amounts owed than the penalty cards of C and D.
The students were asked to take one card at a time off the top of any deck, and researchers noticed their card-picking patterns to see if they would realize it would be more beneficial in the long run to discard from decks C and D.
“Hungry participants performed better on selecting cards from advantageous decks,” researchers explained, “thus lending credit to our assumption that hungry participants performed better in this complex task with uncertain outcomes.”
The second study replicated the first, but instead of having the participants fast, researchers subtly manipulated hunger in 50 female college students by presenting them with 10 different snacks.
According to PLOS ONE, half of the participants were asked to evaluate the snacks based on their craving for it, while the other half rated the snack based on its price.
Participants who rated snacks based on their craving reported to being more hungry after the Iowa Gambling Task, and they chose more advantageous cards.
In the third experiment, 46 college students fasted for approximately 10 hours and then answered 27 questions regarding a small and large amount of money that would be available to them in a shorter or longer period of time, according to PLOS ONE.
“Opting for a small reward when a bigger one is available can be regarded as self-control failure, even when the bigger one is delayed,” researchers wrote in the study. “Yet, many people tend to engage in this kind of disadvantageous choices, such as weight watchers who prefer a high caloric muffin for breakfast over a slim waist.”
Participants who were hungry more often chose to receive bigger rewards in a longer period of time than those who were not hungry, according to the study.
PLOS ONE suggests that these findings may be due to hungry participants viewing risks and rewards as being larger than they actually are, so they rely on their emotions to make a beneficial decision.
“It may be that hot states in general, and hunger and appetite in particular, do not necessarily make people more impulsive, but rather make them rely more on gut feeling, which benefits complex decisions with uncertain outcomes,” researchers said.