Dutch scientists have shown that people make less impulsive decisions when they're hungry

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Image: Why you should make decisions on an empty stomach

Photo: Maja Smend

How many of Paul Hollywood's raspberry and passionfruit muffins do you think you should eat?

We’ve always been told that going to the supermarket on an empty stomach can result in a trolley full of sugary snacks and ill-conceived purchases, right? Well, not according to new research.


Researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands have found that people with a grumbling stomach make better decisions than those who are fully fed.


Three experiments were carried out on groups of fasting and non-fasting students. The fasting group ate nothing for 10 hours before taking part in the study, while the non-fasters were free to tuck into as much food and drink as they wanted (we know which team we'd want to be on).


The first two experiments saw students playing the computerised card game "Iowa gambling task" which stimulates real-life decision making. The fasting group evaluated long- and short-term gains much better than their well-fed friends.


In the third study, which was carried out on 46 students, participants were given 27 questions requiring them to choose between receiving a small amount of money immediately or a larger amount in the future. Fasting participants showed a greater tendancy to opt for the larger amount of money in the future, while the non-fasting participants were more inclined towards the instant cash.


The authors of the study, which was published in the journal PLOS One, said: “Hunger and appetite do not necessarily make people more impulsive, but rather make them rely more on gut feeling, which benefits complex decisions with uncertain outcomes.


Alternatively, it may be that hot states [states of hightened emotion such as hunger] do increase impulsivity, but that impulsivity is not necessarily bad.”


Now, if only we could translate this into a "sensible" grocery shop on the way home from work tonight ...