If you’ve got a big decision to make today, maybe hold off on lunch for a sec. Some new research in PLOS ONE suggests that people make better decisions on an empty stomach.
Researchers asked 30 undergraduates to undergo a brief fast, starting at 11 p.m. and ending the next morning, when they reported for duty as lab rats. Some of the students were given a test called the Iowa Gambling Task, which is said to resemble real-life decision-making; the rest of the students got their breakfast after doing the task. In the end, the hungrier students played the game more shrewdly, making better decisions than the students who’d already eaten.
Most studies in this area have suggested the opposite — that being in a mental state charged with a huge emotional or visceral drive leads to more impulsive, and therefore poorer, decision-making. (Researchers call this a “hot state.”) But the authors here have a different take: They think that moderate hunger can cause people to be more likely to rely on intuition and emotions, “which benefits complex decisions with uncertain outcomes,” they write. “Alternatively, it may be that hot states do increase impulsivity, but that impulsivity is not necessarily bad.” It’s just one study, and a small one at that, but it suggests an interesting way to tap into your (literal) gut feelings.