Gluttons for Punishment? Experimentally Induced Hunger Unexpectedly Reduces Harshness of Suggested Punishments
Although many societies endorse objectivity in moral judgment and punishment, humans are frequently influenced by deep-rooted biases, such that superficially irrelevant factors can influence moral judgment and decision making. Hunger is a fundamental source of motivation and is known to redirect behavior in other domains. The present research aims to test whether hunger influences moral judgments and punishments.
We first report results from four pilot studies (n = 1354) which, taken together, imply a positive relationship between self-reported hunger and harsher moral judgment. The main preregistered study then examined the effect of experimentally induced hunger on judicial sentencing and moral judgments. Hunger was manipulated by asking 246 undergraduates to not eat for at least four hours before the study. Participants in the Satiated condition received a snack before taking questionnaires, while those in the Hungry condition were given the same snack after responding to the questionnaires.
Contrary to our pre-registered predictions, participants in the Hungry condition recommended significantly more lenient punishments, while the manipulation had no effect on moral judgment.
Overall, the results suggest caution regarding previous findings indicating that hungry people punish more, and offer tentative evidence of the opposite effect under some conditions. We discuss possible reasons for the apparent inconsistencies between studies.
KeywordsHunger Punishment Moral judgment Egalitarianism Decision making
This research was not directly supported by any funding organization.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
All research described in the article complies with US national law, and all studies were approved by the appropriate institutional review boards.
Conflict of Interest
None of the authors have any conflicts of interests.
- Ahola, A. S., Christianson, S. Å., & Hellström, Å. (2009). Justice needs a blindfold: Effects of gender and attractiveness on prison sentences and attributions of personal characteristics in a judicial process. Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, 16, 90–100. https://doi.org/10.1080/13218710802242011.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Cantril, H. (1965). The pattern of human concerns. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
- Carter, E. C., & McCullough, M. E. (2014). Publication bias and the limited strength model of self-control: Has the evidence for ego depletion been overestimated? Frontiers in Psychology, 5. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00823
- Considine, R. V., Sinha, M. K., Heiman, M. L., Kriauciunas, A., Stephens, T. W., Nyce, M. R., … & Caro, J. F. (1996). Serum immunoreactive-leptin concentrations in normal-weight and obese humans. New England Journal of Medicine, 334, 292–295. https://doi.org/10.1056/nejm199602013340503 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Glöckner, A. (2016). The irrational hungry judge effect revisited: Simulations reveal that the magnitude of the effect is overestimated. Judgment and Decision making, 11, 601–610.Google Scholar
- Quintelier, K. J. P., Ishii, K., Weeden, J., Kurzban, R., & Braeckman, J. (2013). Individual differences in reproductive strategy are related to views about recreational drug use in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Japan. Human Nature, 24, 196–217. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12110-013-9165-0.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Royzman, E. B., Landy, J. F., & Goodwin, G. P. (2014). Are good reasoners more incest-friendly? Trait cognitive reflection predicts selective moralization in a sample of American adults. Judgment and Decision making, 9, 176–190.Google Scholar