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May 16, 2017       
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Can't Think When You're Hungry?
by Monica A. Frank, PhD

Never argue at the dinner table, for the one who is not hungry always gets the best of the argument. Richard Whately
One of the worst times to make decisions is when you are hungry. People are less likely to be thoughtful about their decisions when hungry and more likely to be impulsive.

A review of research regarding hunger and decision-making shows how hunger affects thinking and behavior (Orquin and Kurzban, 2016):

1) More willing to spend money on food. Most people know not to go to the grocery store when hungry as they are more likely to purchase items that they don't need or less healthy foods.

2) Less likely to spend money on things that are not food related. When a person is hungry they have more difficulty making purchase decisions about non-food items.

3) More willing to work on tasks focused on food. Being hungry makes a person more willing to work on tasks to obtain food such as preparing a meal.

4) Less willing to work on tasks not related to food. When a person is hungry they are not as likely to work on anything other than obtaining food. Job productivity decreases when people are hungry.

5) Less able to delay gratification for food. Even when a person knows they can obtain higher quality food or more food by waiting, they are likely to make poorer choices so as to obtain food immediately.

6) Less self-control with things unrelated to food. When a person is hungry they have decreased ability to delay gratification for other things and are more likely to make poor decisions as a result.

7) More likely to make emotional decisions. Being hungry causes people to react more emotionally and not engage in a reasoned decision-making process.

How to Improve Decision-making

1) Take care of your needs. If you are hungry, tired, or otherwise not in a decision-making state, take care of those issues first.

2) Choose a time. Know when you are more likely to make clear decisions.

3) Don't be pressured. Even if someone is pressuring you for an immediate decision, you can delay responding until you are in a better circumstance.

Orquin, J.L. and Kurzban, R. (2016). A Meta-Analysis of Blood Glucose Effects on Human Decision Making. Psychological Bulletin, 142, 546–567. DOI:10.1037/bul0000035


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