Effects of hunger on emotional arousal responses and attention/memory biases

Emotion. 2021 Feb;21(1):148-158. doi: 10.1037/emo0000680. Epub 2019 Oct 7.


In this study, we examined how emotional arousal interacts with hunger states and the processing of food stimuli. In general, arousal enhances the processing of high-priority information at the expense of lower priority information (Mather & Sutherland, 2011). Because food has been a biologically relevant stimulus in primates throughout evolution, detecting it in the environment and remembering its location has high priority. In our study, inducing arousal enhanced attention to subsequent food stimuli. In addition, we manipulated whether participants were hungry or sated to examine how hunger states would influence emotional processing. Previous research reveals that being hungry is associated with increases in norepinephrine, a key neurotransmitter involved in the arousal response. We found that, when sated, participants showed greater pupil dilation to emotional than neutral stimuli. In contrast, when hungry, pupil dilation responses were as strong to neutral as to emotional stimuli. Thus, when hungry, participants were less effective at differentiating the intensity of arousal responses to emotional versus neutral stimuli because of high arousal responses to neutral stimuli. Memory for food stimuli was enhanced compared with memory for nonfood stimuli for all participants but especially for hungry participants. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Attentional Bias / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hunger / physiology*
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Young Adult