The science of hangry

Loved this New Yorker post about the evolutionary benefits and costs of how hunger affects your brain:

Hunger makes Belgians less charitable, Israeli judges more draconian, and Ohioans likelier to stick pins into voodoo dolls that represent their spouses…

Hunger seems like a simple phenomenon: the stomach rumbles until it’s fed, then it’s quiet until it rumbles again. Why, then, does it shape so much behavior that, at least on the surface, has so little to do with food? …

These side effects of hunger—intensified awareness, greater persistence, bolder risk assessments—also exist in humans. Like walleye pollock, people seem to behave with a profitable recklessness when hungry. In a 2014 paper titled “Always Gamble on an Empty Stomach,” researchers at Utrecht University, in the Netherlands, found that hungry subjects fared significantly better on a psychological challenge called the Iowa Gambling Task than did subjects who had eaten Greek yogurt beforehand…

Of course, all the exquisite sensitivity and restless energy that hunger induces have a downside: crankiness. In 1946, a study known as the Minnesota Starvation Experiment documented the powerful connection between hunger and anger—an early description of the mental state now popularly known as “hangry.” …

Most of the time, we can be glad that allaying our hunger no longer means prowling for wildebeests or foraging for berries. But the system that served our ancestors so well—that gave them the drive to hunt and the good sense to gather—turns out to be something of a liability in the modern world. An adaptation that’s useful on the savannah doesn’t necessarily help in the office cubicle or the dorm room. In places where food abounds, the hungry now prowl the department store and forage for binder clips, ready to snap until they get their cake.

Interesting stuff.  From what I can tell, I really don’t get too hangry (I wonder if that also means I have less of an alertness benefit), but I learned early in my marriage, do not let my wife get too hungry.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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