“You’re not you when you’re hungry.”

How many times have we heard this exact same sentence? Now, there is scientific backing to it as well. Researchers at the University of Dundee suggest that people might want to avoid making any important decisions about the future on an empty stomach.


The University’s psychology department conducted a study that found that hunger significantly changed people’s decision-making, making them impatient and more likely to settle for a small reward that arrives sooner than a larger one promised at a later date. 

In an experiment designed by Dr. Benjamin Vincent, participants were asked questions related to money, food and other rewards when satiated and again when on an empty stomach. The experiment found that hungry people were more likely to settle for smaller food incentives that arrived sooner. They also found that being hungry actually changes preferences for rewards entirely unrelated to food.


This indicates that a reluctance to defer gratification may carry over into other kinds of decisions, such as financial and interpersonal ones. Dr. Vincent says, 

People’s preferences shifted dramatically from the long to short term when hungry. 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. 

Dr Vincent and his co-author and former student Jordan Skrynka tested 50 participants twice – once when they had eaten normally and once having not eaten anything that day.  When hungry, people wanted smaller rewards to be given immediately rather than larger ones that would arrive later. Dr Vincent adds, 

“We wanted to know whether being in a state of hunger had a specific effect on how you make decisions only relating to food or if it had broader effects, and this research suggests decision-making gets more present-focused when people are hungry.

This study has been published in the latest edition of the journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.