Hunger can alter aesthetic preferences for human bodies and other objects, study finds

We’ve all been given the advice “don’t grocery shop hungry” before—but should hunger make us also stay off dating apps? A study published in BMC Psychology suggests that being hungry can actually make people change the body type they are attracted to.

Hunger is a very important and strong motivating factor, as eating is a basic need for survival. In humans, calorie deficits can have negative effects on cognition, memory, attention, and executive function. People who are hungry or fasting are likely to be more attracted to food and more motivated to get and ingest food. There is evidence that hunger can change and effect decision-making. Previous research has shown that hunger can even alter men’s appreciation of different body types on women. This study sought to replicate and expand on those results.

Researcher Valentina Cazzato and colleagues utilized 44 participants, 21 of whom were women. Their mean age was 23.7 years old. Experimenters used computer-generated 3D images of faces, bodies, and objects. This included 2 male and 2 female models of different weights wearing identical underwear displayed against a plain, consistent background. Additionally, it included 2 male and 2 female faces of difference roundness with neutral expressions against the same plain background.

All participants saw face, body, and object stimuli in different orders. The experiment was run online, and participants were prompted to rate how much they liked the images they saw. The fasting condition was completed after 12+ hours of not eating overnight and the snack condition was completed immediately after eating a snack.

Results showed support for previous research suggesting that appreciation of human bodies can be altered by hunger. Additionally, it extended this research by showing that preference for faces, which can be indirect clues to fat storage, and preference for objects, which is unrelated to fat, can be affected by hunger as well. Participants with high BMI participants showed hunger-based preferences for roundness, but low BMI participants did not. High BMI participants showed preference for roundness in all conditions, but the relationship was stronger when they were fasting and hungry.

This study successfully expanded the literature on hunger’s effects on aesthetic preferences. Despite this, it also has limitations. One such limitation is that this study did not delve into gender differences, which could potentially have a significant effect. Additionally, this study did not assess socioeconomic status or financial security. This could be important because food insecurity has been linked to preference for a heavier partner in previous research.

“Future work might seek to elucidate the relationship between physiological states of hunger and shifts in appreciation of the human bodies and whether this relationship might be mediated by individual traits associated with the beholder’s body adiposity,” the researchers said.

The study, “’When hunger makes everything better looking!’: The effect of hunger on the aesthetic appreciation of human bodies, faces, and objects“, was authored by Valentina Cazzato, Carmelo M. Vicario, and Cosimo Urgesi.

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