Starving? Stay Out of That Shoe Store

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album

Reviewed by Martie Gillen, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

I don’t know about you, but when I go to the grocery store hungry, a lot of things that weren’t on my list tend to somehow sneak into my cart. (Hey, look! Cereal’s on sale—and potato chips are on BOGO!)

Most of us realize that we shouldn’t grocery-shop under these conditions if we can help it. But did you know that being hungry might lead you to spend more on nonfood items, too? That’s the conclusion from a series of experiments published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Hungry People Just Want More “Stuff”

In one study, participants who were either on their way out from eating lunch (not hungry) or on their way in to eat lunch (hungry!) were asked to rate how much they liked and wanted various items, like a sandwich, a cookie, a wireless mouse, and a USB drive. Unsurprisingly, hungry people wanted the food more than people who weren’t hungry. But hungry people also reported wanting the inedible objects more than people who were full…even though they didn’t seem to “like” them more.

And in a couple of funny experiments, people were given the opportunity to examine and rate binder clips—and then, to take home as many as they wanted. Obviously, binder clips are not especially delicious. However, participants who were hungry chose to bring home many more of these office supplies than those who were full. Again, this was true even though hungry people didn’t rate the binder clips as more “likeable” than people who were not hungry.

…And Spend More Money

And in one last “real life” survey, experimenters stopped shoppers on their way out of a department store and asked to see their receipts. Those who said they were hungry had sent significantly more money than those who said they were not—even though almost none of them had bought food!

Why would this happen? The researchers think that when we’re hungry, our brains may just get into the mode of wanting to “get” and “acquire” objects—even objects that have no chance of satisfying our hunger. In other words, perhaps we subconsciously confuse things like binder clips (or clothes, electronics, or shoes!) with the thing we really want: food.

So, while we all know not to grocery-shop hungry, it seems that it might be better not to shop for anything hungry. Maybe it’s best to start off with a great meal before that next trip to the mall…and even before that next Internet shopping expedition.


Xu, A. J., Schwarz, N., & Wyer, R. S. (2015). Hunger promotes acquisition of nonfood items. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Advance online publication.


Posted: February 25, 2015

Category: Money Matters, Work & Life
Tags: Budgeting, Family Resource Management, Personal And Family Finances

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