• Robb G. Best

When Having a Snack Might Save You

Got an important decision to make? If you’re feeling hungry, new research suggests you should probably have a snack or a meal before you commit to a choice.

Those are the findings from Dr. Benjamin Vincent of the University of Dundee’s Psychology department. Dr. Vincent’s study recruited 50 volunteers, polling them about their willingness to wait longer for better long-term outcomes when it came to food, money, and other rewards. Then the volunteers were polled again—after they had skipped a meal.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the hungry participants were notably more likely to settle for a smaller food reward if it meant getting that treat sooner. We have probably all witnessed this in real life, when your ravenous dining party opts to skip a popular restaurant with a huge wait time in favor of a less exciting eating hole that can seat you right away. Once those hunger pains settle in, the thought of a forty-five minute wait just to get a table becomes almost unthinkable.

However, Dr. Vincent found that this hunger-induced desire for instant (or at least sooner) gratification also held true when it came to decisions regarding, say, mortgages. Not only is it fascinating to think that the effects of an empty tummy could cross over into other decision-making domains, it’s also disquieting. The choices you make about your financial planning certainly leave a much more prominent mark on your life than whether you choose one night to dine at the Ritz or settle for Bennigan’s.

Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky found something similar in the 1970’s, when they published research suggesting that Israeli judges were roughly 65% likely to issue a favorable ruling either in the beginning of the day (after breakfast) or following a lunch break, and that this percentage steadily dropped towards zero as the day wore on and their stomachs began to growl again. While some more recent scholarship has suggested that this effect might have been overstated, the possibility that a judge might find you guilty simply because they were feeling peckish is a little chilling.

Of course, Dr. Vincent’s work only examined the decision-making of fifty people—too small of a sample size to make any definitive statements about human nature. Still, it is one more piece of evidence suggesting that a hungry person is an impatient one, and an impatient person is more likely to make judgment calls they may regret later. So while we can’t make any sweeping generalizations, the next time you’ve got a dilemma weighing on your mind, maybe take a pause and grab a fistful of almonds first. Your future-self may thank you…

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