Study: Shopping While Hungry Might Make You Buy A Bunch Of Stuff You Don’t Want

We all know the horrors of roaming the grocery store aisles while hungry (and subsequently filling up your cart with $50 worth of Ho Hos and Kraft Deluxe instead of the kale you came for), but a University of Minnesota study has found that hunger can fuel regretful purchases of any products, not just food. The study, which was published last week in PNAS, aimed to focus on the ways hunger can alter our thoughts and behaviors surrounding items that aren’t food. This is a change of pace from most past hunger studies, which, not surprisingly, focused on how hunger impacts our thoughts about food.

The study’s research team conducted five experiments on the behavior of 379 participants. One experiment involved subjects sitting in a cafe, rating their hunger, and then discussing both edible and non-edible products. Hungry participants rated food items more highly than full participants, and while being hungry didn’t impact the way they rated non-food products, it increased how much of both edible and non-edible items they wanted. Why buy one pair of shoes, their hungry brains probably said, when I can have three, because fuck it! (Well, something like that.) In another experiment, half of a group of hungry participants were given cake and then the entire group was shown some nifty binder clips and asked if they liked them. Both the hungry and not-hungry participants liked the clips about the same amount, but when they were offered up as free gifts, the hungry subjects took 70 percent more of them.

Later, the research team set out to determine whether the same effect occurred when people actually had to pay for the items by investigating customers’ receipts at a department store. After controlling for mood and the amount of time they’d been in the store, the hungry shoppers had spent 60 percent more than their full peers, and bought more non-food items. The researchers are theorizing that this likely only occurs when people are experiencing the kind of hunger that’s not life threatening or severe. After all, these subjects were not so hungry that they couldn’t manage to be out shopping – they weren’t near starvation, and if they were, they’d probably be focused solely on food.

I guess when we get hungry, that feeling of physical emptiness somehow compels us to snatch up and consume anything and everything in our sight, whether it will actually satiate us or not. While these results come from a very small sample and probably need more research, I can definitely see the correlation in my own past shopping habits. When I’m hungry, I want to acquire stuff at all costs, and it’s almost like I have blinders on that prevent me from weighing the downsides of splurging on something I don’t really need or particularly want. So, add mall trips and Amazon perusals to the list of many things that are dangerous when you’re hangry – along with exercise, errands, choosing an outfit, any form of conversation or bickering with anyone you remotely care about – honestly, everything is potentially life-ruining while hangry. Let’s all take a break and eat a sandwich.

[Smithsonian]

[PNAS]

[Image via Shutterstock]