CreditCards.com

Research, regulation, industry reports

Study: People make smarter money choices when they’re hungry

Kelly Dilworth

The next time you go shopping, you may want to skip lunch. A study published Oct. 23 found that people who are moderately hungry tend to make smarter choices with their cash.

“These studies for the first time provide evidence that hot states [such as hunger] improve decision-making under uncertain conditions, challenging the conventional conception of the detrimental role of impulsivity,” write study authors Denise de Ridder, Floor Kroese, Marieke Adriaanse and Catherine Evers in the online science publication Plos One. (In psychology-speak, “hot states” are visceral feelings or emotions such as jealousy, anger or hunger.)  

Study: People make smarter money choices when they're hungry

For example, instead of making would-be savers more susceptible to temptation — such as a swanky dress that’s marked half off — hunger appears to make them more disciplined and, thus, more likely to wait for a bigger payoff in the future.

Researchers came to their conclusions after conducting a series of experiments that tested people’s snap decisions when they’re hungry.

In one of the experiments, some participants were given breakfast, while others were instructed to skip it. The participants were then asked if they would prefer a smaller amount of money now or a larger amount of money later. Surprisingly, the participants with the growling stomachs were more likely to wait.

“Hungry participants were better able to resist (hypothetical) choices that brought immediate big (but not medium or small) rewards but were ultimately disadvantageous,” write de Ridder et al. 

A counterintuitive result
According to the authors, these findings stand in direct contrast to previous research that’s shown that feeling hungry or emotional can erode your self-control. “Indeed, an overwhelming amount of evidence exists indicating that people become more impulsive and opt for immediate gratification of their desires when they are emotional [or] hungry.” People also tend to mistakenly assume that feeling hungry clouds people’s judgment and hinders their decision-making.

The researchers theorize that people’s improved decision-making when they’re hungry may be partially due to the fact that being hungry or emotional tends to make you rely more heavily on your feelings and intuition when making snap decisions. And previous research shows that relying on your gut can lead to better decision-making if you don’t have time to process and think through it.

In addition, feeling hungry might also make people more aware of the losses they’ll experience if they make a decision that feels good now, but leads to more pain down the road, say the researchers. “We argue that these benefits from being in a hot state result from a greater reliance on emotions that allow for a better recognition of risks.”

Your bottom line
Shop before you eat. You may find you’re less tempted to blow through your savings if you’re more preoccupied with your growling stomach than with another alluring sale.

Join the Discussion

We encourage an active and insightful conversation among our users. Please help us keep our community civil and respectful. For your safety, we ask that you do not disclose confidential or personal information such as your bank account numbers, social security numbers, etc. Keep in mind that anything you post may be disclosed, published, transmitted or reused.

The editorial content on CreditCards.com is not sponsored by any bank or credit card issuer. The journalists in the editorial department are separate from the company's business operations. The comments posted below are not provided, reviewed or approved by any company mentioned in our editorial content. Additionally, any companies mentioned in the content do not assume responsibility to ensure that all posts and/or questions are answered.