Do we become selfish when we are hungry?

Do we become selfish when we are hungry?

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Does hunger promote selfish behavior?

Hunger can have a major impact on our behavior. We react more irritably and aggressively and our mood only improves when we have finally eaten. It is reasonable to assume that hunger also leads to increased selfish behavior. In a current study, an international research team has now got to the bottom of this question - with a surprising result.

When hunger goes down, we become irritable and aggressive. So the conclusion suggests that hungry people are more concerned with their own interests. Evidence of this had already appeared in various previous studies. An international research team with the involvement of several German universities has therefore looked for possible effects of the feeling of hunger on behavior in an extensive series of studies. Her study results were published in the specialist journal "Nature communications".

Low blood sugar tests

"For the experimental studies, the test participants were instructed not to eat anything at least twelve hours before the start of the tests, so they came to the laboratory very hungry and with a low blood sugar level," reports the Justus Liebig University in Gießen (JLU) a press release on the current study. While half of the participants were given two chocolate puddings before various tests were carried out, the other group had to complete the tasks hungry.

Selfish behavior tested

In the tests, selfish behavior was examined, for example, on the basis of a sum of money that the test participants were supposed to divide between themselves and the others. "Other tasks were about behaving cooperatively in order to make a higher profit together," reports the JLU. There was also the possibility of sanctioning the selfish behavior of the other participants. There was no reliable evidence of increased selfish behavior of hungry compared to full participants, the researchers explain.

Hunger doesn't make you more selfish

This result was for the research team led by Prof. Dr. Jan Häusser from the JLU is quite surprising and therefore they tried in further experiments whether the selfish tendencies could be found earlier if it was not about money but about food. A stand was set up in the cafeteria of the JLU, at which students who were either going to the cafeteria hungry or students who came out of the cafeteria should divide up money or food. In these experiments, too “there was no evidence that hunger makes you more selfish, regardless of whether money or food was divided,” the researchers report.

Selfish behavior often overestimated

"Although acute hunger may increase selfish impulses, these often do not have an impact on behavior," emphasizes Professor Häusser. According to the researchers, the selfish behavior of hungry people is often overestimated, on the assumption that selfish action is encouraged, especially when resources are scarce. However, the current studies show that this is not the case, at least for acute hunger.

Selfish impulses slowed down

The researchers see a possible explanation for the renunciation of selfish behavior - despite hunger - "that the social framework - for example possible sanctions or the impending loss of social reputation - are so strong that such selfish impulses are slowed down." Adhere to the fact that hunger affects our mood and can certainly influence our social behavior, but there are no effects on selfishness. (fp)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Dipl. Geogr. Fabian Peters


  • Häusser, J. A .; Stahlecker, C .; Mojzisch, A .; Leder, J .; van Lange, P.A.M .; Faber, N .: Acute hunger does not always undermine prosociality, in: Nature Communications,

Video: Why Am I Always Hungry? 5 Reasons Why Youre Always Hungry (July 2022).


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