If you know you've got an important decision to make today — maybe something a bit bigger than "elevator or stairs?" — consider waiting to eat until after you've made it. A new study in PLOS ONE suggests that people make better decisions on an empty stomach.
Researchers told nine men and 21 women to refrain from eating and drinking (except water) beginning at 11pm and continuing to the next morning. All subjects were given the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT), which assesses performance on a complex task with uncertain outcomes, but some were told to eat before taking it, while others had to wait. Before subjects were administered the IGT, they had to report how hungry they were on a scale of 1 (not at all) to 5 (very much).
Surprisingly, the hungry participants performed better than satiated people — which, the authors say, is the first piece of evidence that "hunger improves, rather than compromises, advantageous decision making."
The authors attribute this result to the fact that, when we're hungry, we're more likely to make impulsive, emotion-based decisions. But since those who were hungry performed better in this "complex task with uncertain outcomes," this kind of incautious decision making seems to be working.
Of course, this was a small study, and anytime research seems to contradict everything we think we know, it's good to be cautious. More studies need to be done to confirm these findings, but it's something to keep in mind before you nervously stuff your face next time you need to make a big choice.
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