It turns out your rumbling tummy might be trying to tell you more than "it's lunchtime." A new study from researchers at Utrecht University in The Netherlands shows that being hungry might actually lead to better decision-making.
In the study, published last week in PLoS One, researchers gave participants the Iowa Gambling Task. In this classic psychology test, participants are required to choose from four decks of cards that will either give them a reward or a penalty. People tend to learn pretty quickly to pick from the decks with the biggest payoffs and to avoid those that cause losses. In this study, hungrier participants (having fasted since 11 p.m. the night before the morning study) played more advantageously than those who had full stomachs: taking smarter card-picking risks, but not more risks overall.
These results suggests that making decisions on a moderately empty stomach can actually be better for you. Why? The authors suggest that being hungrier may force us to rely on more impulsive, emotional decision-making processes — and that could be a good thing. This is especially intriguing because it flies in the
stomach face of past research, which suggested the opposite. And, this new study counteracts what we thought we knew about being "hangry" — namely, that we should step back and have a snack before lashing out at someone.
In many situations, any decision is better than indecision. Here, the authors say hunger may help us see the value of our "gut" instincts, so we don't over-think what should be a quick choice. So, maybe we should throw conventional wisdom to the wind and go grocery shopping on an empty stomach. At least we'd be decisive. And, we'd get the Halloween candy we really want.