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Our Patience Levels Are Influenced By How Hungry We Are

Surprisingly, the hungrier we are the more patient we're likely to be.

22/02/2017 12:24 PM AEDT | Updated 23/02/2017 8:25 AM AEDT

How long we're willing to wait for a reward is likely to be influenced by how hungry we are, according to Melbourne scientists.

The research has provided new insights into the relationship between the sensitivity of people's persistence to their current physiological state, demonstrating that those who are hungrier are more likely to wait longer for future rewards.

The results also indicated that the bigger the rewards are that we receive, the less patient we become.

To test their theory, scientists had participants complete a series of computer tasks in which they could repeatedly take a small amount of money immediately, or wait an uncertain time for a larger amount of money, research author Bowen Fung told The Huffington Post Australia.

These participants were then split into two groups -- half were given a sweet calorie-rich beverage, similar to a soft drink, while the others were given water.

"Although this was irrelevant to the task of waiting for money, it meant that half of our participants had the experience of being physiologically rewarded," Fung said.

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The findings seem to contradict previous thoughts that we're more impatient when hungry.

After carrying out the computer tasks, researchers found that those who weren't given the soft drink-type beverage were more likely to be patient and wait for a reward, while those who were given it tended to be more impatient.

"I think many people would agree that, at least experientially, they get more impatient when hungry... Our results seem to imply the opposite, which is interesting," Fung said.

"One possible explanation is when you're hungry you just don't have the energy to risk exploring alternative strategies."

In the same computer task, the researchers also found that our patience can also be influenced by the size of the rewards in our environment.

"We sometimes made the larger monetary reward become available sooner on average, which meant that participants could potentially earn more money," Fung said.

The results demonstrated that those who saw bigger rewards sooner were less willing to wait than those who didn't, adding further weight to the claims that people's decision making capacity, especially when acting impulsively, are quite state dependent as opposed to being stable personality characteristics.

"We found that both of these manipulations caused participants to give up waiting earlier," Fung said.

"Both of these results can be explained by the fact that the manipulations increased how much potential reward participants might have expected in the future, and therefore made their time more valuable.

"This increased sense of opportunity cost led to participants being less willing to waste their time for the larger reward."

The research illustrated that those who had been given bigger rewards sooner and had also been given the beverage maintained the same levels of impatience, Fung clarified.



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