Predicting Hunger: The Effects of Appetite and Delay on Choice

Organ Behav Hum Decis Process. 1998 Nov;76(2):189-205. doi: 10.1006/obhd.1998.2803.


Preferences often fluctuate as a result of transient changes in hunger and other visceral states. When current decisions have delayed consequences, the preferences that should be relevant are those that will prevail when the consequences occur. However, consistent with the notion of an intrapersonal empathy gap (Loewenstein, 1996) we find that an individual's current state of appetite has a significant effect on choices that apply to the future. Participants in our study made advance choices between healthy and unhealthy snacks (i.e., fruit and junk food) that they would receive in 1 week when they were either hungry (late in the afternoon) or satisfied (immediately after lunch). In 1 week, at the appointed time, they made an immediate choice, an opportunity to change their advance choice. Our main predictions were strongly confirmed. First, advance choices were influenced by current hunger as well as future hunger: hungry participants chose more unhealthy snacks than did satisfied ones. Second, participants were dynamically inconsistent: they chose far more unhealthy snacks for immediate choice than for advance choice. An additional hypothesis related to gender differences was also confirmed. Copyright 1998 Academic Press.