Decision-making clouded by low glucose levels
ARE you prone to making bad or rash decisions? Do you sometimes struggle to think clearly? You could be suffering from a new affliction – you may be “hangry”.
When faced with major decisions such as whether to accept a marriage proposal or job offer, or start a family, most of us apply considerable thought before choosing to go one way or another.
But while it might help to have a clear head when pondering such life-changing events, it isn’t a good idea to have an empty belly. In fact being hungry, and as a consequence irritable, might lead to huge errors of judgment, according to a new study.
And the results could prove catastrophic. We could end up with the wrong mate, in a job we hate, or even with a brood we weren’t quite ready for.
Researchers have discovered that being hungry and angry at the same time – “hangry” is the newly coined term – can drastically affect our decision-making skills, so much so that we are 62% more likely to get things wrong.
The study, led by food psychologist Dr Christy Fergusson and commissioned by malt loaf makers Soreen, involved a series of clinical trials conducted on a group of men and women between their early 20s and mid60s. The aim was to find out what made people angry when they were hungry and how this affected cognitive function.
The participants were forced to listen to irritating sounds repeatedly for five minutes, after not eating for several hours.
These included the sound of a baby crying, a phone ringing and continuous sniffing. Then they were asked to answer a series of brain-teasing questions.
Each group was then allowed a break in which they were given healthy carbohydrate and protein snacks before being subjected to the same test with a different series of brain-teasers.
Initially, less than a third – 27% – of participants who had gone for at least four hours without food managed to find the correct solutions to the problems. But after the snack break almost half – 48% – could. Interestingly, women were found to respond best on a fuller stomach, with a 30% improvement in their ability to make decisions after satisfying their hunger. Among men, this figure was 10%.
The groups were also asked to rate their levels of irritation both before and after eating. Postfood, levels of annoyance drop-
Thursday April 23, 2015 ped by 40%. The participants also reported feeling calmer, happier, and more cooperative.
The findings back up the theory that a low level of blood sugar not only brings on mood swings, but can also cause even the most rational people to lose their ability to think clearly, meaning they might make rash and sometimes risky decisions.
“Many of us are now skipping meals because we are so busy with work and life,” says Fergusson. “This causes huge fluctuations in blood glucose.
“Our brains need a fresh dose of glucose every three to four hours to work properly and enable us to concentrate fully. We also need it for energy. So if we go for long periods without ‘feeding’ the brain, we end up irritable and in a bad mood.”
Previous studies have shown that mothers who don’t eat regularly are more likely to shout at their children, and that employees who skip lunch are less productive. But Fergusson’s study shows skipping meals affects judgment, too.
“We think we are overstressed or out of sorts, yet a lot of the time we are just ‘hangry’. We aren’t giving our brains and bodies the macronutrients they need.”
– The Daily Telegraph