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Hunger pangs are a powerful tool. Wait too long to eat and you will quickly notice the effects on your head. Shop on an empty stomach and you will find yourself indulging in things that you normally avoid. How does this all happen? Scientists have unveiled the results of a new study which proves hungry people are better at identifying food-related words than people with a full stomach. No surprise, huh?
But the study, published in Psychological Science, is relevant because it suggests hunger allows us to perceive things differently, mainly through our instincts, before higher parts of the brain have a chance to analyze what we see.
The study was conducted by psychologist Rémi Radel of France's University of Nice Sophia-Antipolis, who was curious about what happens to our brain before it detects information from the eyes.
The experiment entailed having each student look at a computer screen. A total of 80 words flashed on the screen briefly, about 1/300th of a second. Words appeared too briefly for any participant to be able to read them. After each word flashed, participants were asked to choose between two words and asked to identify which one they had seen.
For instance, participants were asked to choose between a food-related word like gateau and bateau– French for cake and boat, respectively. Those who were hungry were better at identifying the food-related words. Since the words were flashed too briefly to be read and interpreted by the brain, Radel believes this indicates a difference in instinctual perception.
"This is something great to me, that humans can really perceive what they need or what they strive for, to know that our brain can really be at the disposal of our motives and needs," Radel says. For Radel, this is a huge step in understanding the role of our instincts. "There is something inside us that selects information in the world to make life easier."
Photo © Daniel Koebe/Corbis