How Hunger Changes Decision-Making In The Brain

Andy Hab
3 min readDec 1, 2023

How hunger impacts hormones to to turn on action circuits in the brain

A hungry man is an angry man — as they say!

Yes, and this may also apply to women, but the point is that hunger changes the way we process information to make different decisions.

Has this actually been proven?

Well, as I keep pointing out — if we feel something is different, it normally means something is happening in our brain. There is lots of evidence on how hunger changes our decision-making but this recent research is interesting because it found a mechanism in the brain that directs decision-making.

And what was that?

This research into hungry mice showed that the hunger hormone Ghrelin puts the brakes on decision making and action in a part of the hippocampus. The hippocampus comes up often in research, and if you’ve read my other posts. This is because it is a part of the brain that is critical for memory — and this particular area of the brain that the researchers identified is important in linking memories to action.

In this case the action of eating.

But obviously, if you’re hungry, you want to eat more!

Yes, obvious, but they managed to turn this on and off through zapping neurons irrespective of how hungry the mice were. Ghrelin, the hunger hormone, therefore seems to act like a brake which inhibits neuronal activity and makes them respond more to eating impulses.

The mice, if they were hungry would choose to eat food they discovered, logical, but if they weren’t, they would simply explore and ignore the food. This behaviour could be reversed by zapping the neurons at the base of the Hippocampus.

But it show that hunger hormones trigger activation or deactivation of memory action circuits, in a specific part of the brain, and this also leads to more impulsive eating. Hence the very good advice don’t go food shopping when you’re hungry — you will likely buy too much, and too much you don’t need.

But what about other decisions?

Yes, this seems directly linked to all impulsivity in general and in all…

--

--

Andy Hab

Sharing fascinating, fun, and important knowledge on the brain and human behaviour - most days. And masters track athlete - still going strong!