Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology

, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 352–370 | Cite as

Gluttons for Punishment? Experimentally Induced Hunger Unexpectedly Reduces Harshness of Suggested Punishments

  • Nicholas KerryEmail author
  • Riley N. Loria
  • Damian R. Murray
Original Article



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.


Hunger Punishment Moral judgment Egalitarianism Decision making 


Funding Information

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.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyTulane UniversityNew OrleansUSA

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