It's Official: 'Hunger Fog' Really Does Cloud Your Decision Making

Skipping a meal can have a big impact on decision-making, new research suggests.

If you’ve skipped lunch, avoid estate agents at all costs.

Making decisions on an empty stomach can lead to questionable choices, new research suggests – and the effects extend way beyond our food selections.

Most of us know that heading to the supermarket with a growling stomach can mean leaving with an overflowing trolly of unhealthy treats, but the study from Dundee University found ‘hunger fog’ can also prevent us thinking clearly when it comes to big life choices.

Participants in an experiment were asked questions relating to food, money and other rewards when satiated and again when they had skipped a meal.

The study found that hunger significantly altered people’s decision-making, making them impatient and more likely to settle for a small reward that arrived sooner, rather than a larger one promised at a later date.

Dinner place setting. A pink plate with silver fork and knife isolated on pink background with clipping path
Dinner place setting. A pink plate with silver fork and knife isolated on pink background with clipping path

While it was perhaps unsurprising that hungry people were more likely to settle for smaller food incentives that arrived sooner, the researchers found that being hungry actually changes preferences for rewards entirely unrelated to food.

“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,” said study lead Dr Benjamin Vincent.

“Say you were going to speak with a pension 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.”

The researchers noted that if you offer people a reward now or double that reward in the future, they were normally willing to wait 35 days to double the reward, but when hungry this plummeted to only three days.

It seems the makers of Snickers really are on to something: “You’re just not you when you’re hungry.”