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Study suggests that hungry people make smarter decisions

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Posted November 19, 2014

Do so called hot states impair our decision making when we try to solve complex problems? New study carried out by Dutch psychologists provides convincing evidence that opposite is the case. More precisely, scientists managed to show that hunger can increase our chances to solve complex tasks correctly.

Picture: Let's Play. Image credit: Néric Blein via Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Picture: Let’s Play. Image credit: Néric Blein via Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

This finding supports theories claiming that some complex choices and affective states are linked. “Together, these studies for the first time provide suggestive evidence that hot states improve complex decision making under uncertain conditions, lending support to our assumption that being able to recognize and use one’s emotions benefits complex decisions,” authors of the article published on PLoS ONE claim.

Rational deliberation and emotions are usually opposed to each other and rational people are often portrayed as cold-hearted. However, psychological research provides empirical case against this strongly entrenched dichotomy. Many studies show that so called hot states fuel choices which are advantageous in a short-term. However, their influence on complex decisions having long-term consequences is under explored.

“In contrast, there is initial evidence suggesting that hot states may not compromise but rather facilitate advantageous decision making when these decisions are complex and long-term outcomes are uncertain, such as when delayed benefits are involved,” they say. At least sometimes people do not have enough time to explore all the possible scenarios rationally and help from intuitions and emotions are needed.

Denise de Ridder and her colleagues at the University of Ultrecht investigated how hungry people will play difficult games requiring strategic decisions. They discovered that participants, who were hungrier, were able to receive higher rewards than those who were satiated. In addition, their ability to foresee big rewards increased as well. Interestingly, hunger did not cause more risk taking.

“Apparently, our findings stand in sharp contrast with previous studies showing that hot states in general and visceral drives in particular compromise decision making. However, most studies so far either tested these assumptions in samples with impulsive pathology or used simple decision tasks that allowed for a straightforward comparison of the options involved,” the researchers conclude.

Article: de Ridder D., Kroese F., Adriaanse M., Evers C., 2014, Always Gamble on an Empty Stomach: Hunger Is Associated with Advantageous Decision Making. PLoS ONE 9(10), source link.

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