Better Decisions Made on a Full Stomach

Nov. 5, 2008
Missing meals may lower levels of the brain chemical serotonin

Although many time-crunched executives forgo working lunches, there might be a good reason to change your modus operandi. Decisions are best made on a full stomach, according to researchers at Cambridge University.

They conclude that missing meals lowers levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which plays a key role in regulating emotions such as aggression. Low levels of serotonin may mean emotions overrule and bad decisions are made.

Serotonin is synthesized from the amino acid tryptophan and plays an important role as a neurotransmitter; it helps control anger, aggression, body temperature, mood, sleep, sexuality, appetite and metabolism. Found in red meat, dairy products, nuts, seeds, bananas, tuna, shellfish and soy products, serotonin is often referred to as the “happy hormone.” Too little can lead to depression, but too much can produce feelings of euphoria akin to being high on drugs.

The scientists manipulated serotonin levels on volunteers and let them play a game that allowed them to accept monetary offers from another player. Those with depleted serotonin accepted fair offers, but rejected 80 percent of unfair offers as a way to punish the person who made the offer, even if it meant neither player received any compensation.

The satisfaction produced by denying the unfair player any cash was reward enough. That suggests serotonin plays a critical role in regulating emotion during social decision-making by normally keeping aggressive social responses in check.

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