Ladies and gentlemen, the opening line of the peer-reviewed paper “Hunger promotes acquisition of nonfood objects” appearing in the (once) venerable organ Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, by Alison Jing Xu, Norbert Schwarz, and Robert S. Wyer (HT to John Cook for bringing this to our attention):
Hunger can drive people’s responses to food.
Not only can hunger drive people’s responses to food, “Hunger motivates people to consume food, for which finding and acquiring food is a prerequisite.”
Site managers for fast-food franchises and grocery stores take note.
Anyway, that isn’t the real research. This is: “We test whether the acquisition component spills over to nonfood objects: Are hungry people more likely to acquire objects that cannot satisfy their hunger?”
Science did not know the response to this puzzling query before the valiant efforts of our trio. I’ll reveal the shocking answer below, but first it’s important for you to comprehend how important the scientific enterprise is. Without science, and without massive government control of and spending on research—this grant was funded by the “Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada”—humanity would be left in the dark on such monumental questions like whether hungry people are more likely to acquire objects that cannot satisfy their hunger.
As is obvious, it would take a ton of painstaking research to answer the question. That’s what happened here. Our trio did not just do one laboratory and field study, nor only two laboratory and field studies, and not even three laboratory and field studies…but five—count ’em! FIVE—laboratory and field studies.
Now in preparing these arduous studies, our trio first reviewed previous studies on similar topics, where they learned hunger “can increase men’s preference for heavier women, who presumably have richer calorie resources”.
(This reminds me that there is one cannibal joke in this must-have new book: Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics.)
A word of caution: “The predicted increase in acquisition of nonfood items [drive by hunger] is not necessarily accompanied by increased liking of these items.” This is because there is a “distinction between liking and wanting” and that is because liking and wanting are “processed by different neural substrates…For example, being prevented from obtaining a desired outcome can increase the desire to obtain the outcome while reducing its attractiveness.”
Insert pop-culture reference here: Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad.
Now to the meatiness: experiment one.
Study 1 examined whether hunger increases the cognitive accessibility of concepts related to acquisition. Native English speakers (n = 69) performed a word identification task (15). They saw 22 words and 22 nonwords flashing one at a time on a computer screen at a rate of 50 ms, followed by a series of pound (#) signs. Words and nonwords appeared alternately. In each case, participants typed in the word they saw. If they could not identify what they saw, they could either make a guess or type in “X.” Of the 22 words, nine were semantically related to acquisition (e.g., acquire, want, obtain, gain), four were hunger-related words (e.g., hunger, starve, appetite, famine), and the rest were control words (e.g., speak, close, floor, symbol). Upon completion of the task, participants reported how hungry they were along a scale from 0 (not at all) to 10 (very). The likelihood of correctly identifying hunger-related words increased significantly with self-reported hunger (b = 0.024, SE = 0.012, t = 1.99, P = 0.05)…
There you have it. A wee p-value confirms hungriness and hungry-grammar are matched pairs.
So it went for the other four. Are you ready at last for the stunning conclusion? Yes?
Hunger is one of the most basic and primitive drives of human behavior…Even in affluent societies, episodes of mild hunger are not uncommon…[because] millions of Americans are dieters who deliberately deprive themselves of calories every day…The present findings suggest that such behaviors [as dieting] are likely to lead to unplanned purchases in nonfood domains.
That’s not all, gentlemen and ladies. “Future research” is needed! What is yet a complete mystery is that if a hungry person buys more than food, does a person who buys something besides food also buy non-food items? “Much as hunger gave rise to the acquisition of nonfood items in the present studies, a desire to acquire nonfood items may lead to the unplanned acquisition of food when the opportunity arises.”
Nobody knows! This is your big chance to be part of the famed Scientific Method. Get those scales out and research, research, research!