Does Hormones Released During Hunger Affect One’s Decision Making Abilities?

It’s important to never make a decision when you’re hungry. A hormone called ghrelin, that’s released before a meal is known to increase appetite. The hormone has a negative effect on both decision making and impulsivity control. Such were the results discovered during a study done at Sahlgrenska University.

The Findings of the Study

When a person is hungry, the hormone ghrelin is manufactured in the stomach. In the new study, the hormone has been shown to have a negative effect on decision making capabilities and impulse control.
According to Karolina Skibicka, docent at Sahlgrenska Academy, University in Gothenburg, “For the first time, we have able to show that increasing ghrelin levels that are seen prior to meals or during fasting, causes the brain to act impulsively and also affects the ability to make rational decisions.”

Impulse Control

Controlling impulse is complicated, but it can be broken down into impulsive action (inability to resist a motoric response) and impulse choice (inability to delay gratification).

Many people have experienced the difficulty of resisting getting a sandwich or something else they desire, even if we know that dinner will soon be served, and the same is true for rats used in the study

The rats can be trained to be rewarded with sugar when they perform an action such as pressing a lever. Or instead, they can be rewarded only when they resist pressing the lever, when given an appropriate learned signal is given. The rats learn this by repeatedly being provided with a signal, for example, a flash of light or a buzzing sound that tells them which action should be performed in order for them to receive a reward.


An inability to resist pressing the lever by the rats is a sign of impulsivity. Researchers discovered that rats provided with ghrelin directly into the brain, which mimics how the stomach would notify us of a need to eat, were more likely to press their lever instead of waiting, despite it possibly causing them to lose their reward.

The ability to delay gratification in order to get a bigger reward later is a comparable measure of impulse control. It can be illustrated by options like picking between a single cookie right now or multiple cookies if you waited a few minutes, or overeating high calorie foods for immediate gratification, while disregarding the long-term benefit of eating less or eating healthy.

The individual who picks instant gratification, even though waiting provides a greater reward, is characterized as being more impulsive and that implies a poorer ability to make sound, rational choices.


Impulse control is a distinct feature of many different types of neuropsychiatric disorders and behavioral disorders. The study proved that having increased levels of ghrelin changes the circuits of the brain which are linked to impulse control and decision making. A ghrelin injection into the brain resulted in impulsive behavior in rats, caused by the same kinds of changes in dopamine related genes and enzymes as can be witnessed in ADHD and OCD.

Skibicka says, “Our results indicate that the ghrelin receptors in the brain can be a possible target for future treatment of psychiatric disorders that are characterized by problems with impulsivity and even eating disorders.”

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