What happens when we’re hungry?


Hunger can affect more than our mood
It can also influence our willingness to engage in risky behavior

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC

Hunger and the Brain

You have probably noticed that being hungry can affect your overall mood and feelings of well-being — and that hungry people are often difficult to deal with.

Memes all over the internet frequently
describe that feeling as “hangry.”

But did you know that hunger can also influence the way you respond and make decisions, encouraging you to engage in risky behavior? This reaction can be seen in a wide range of species in the animal kingdom.

Experiments conducted on the fruit fly, Drosophila, by scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology have shown that hunger not only modifies behavior, but also changes the use of neural pathways, revealing that hunger affects decision making and risk perception.

For those who don’t understand why scientists bother studying fruit flies:

  1. the fruit fly is a wonderful genetic model organism for circuit neuroscience (studying connections) and gene/behavior influences.  (Model organisms that are especially valuable when similar early-stage research simply could not be carried out in humans);
  2. their extremely short life-cycle allows research labs to observe effects over many generations quickly – in an extremely cost-effective manner;
  3. their small size means that the equivalent of the entire population of a city like New York could be kept on a measly stack of trays in a single laboratory
  4. scientists and labs usually don’t have to overcome a public perception problem.  Except for incredibly ignorant comments like the ones made by Sarah Palin when she complained loudly about “totally wasted research funds” during the 2008 Presidential campaign, very few educated people rally to object to research on fruit flies.

Related posts:
A Lesson for Sarah Palin on Fruit Fly Research – YouTube
Mapping behavior in the fruit fly brain — ScienceDaily

DID YOU KNOW THAT, among other things . . .

…they can be used to study sleep — that coffee keeps them awake, and that old fruit flies sleep less than young ones?

…the first “jet lag genes” were found in these flies, which aided in their discovery in humans?

…the first learning genes were discovered in fruit flies and operate in the same manner in humans?

…in fact, about 75% of human disease genes have a recognizable match in fruit flies? (i.e., “Homologous” – having the same or a similar correspondence, as in relative position, structure and/or function)

…since they can get drunk and addicted to alcohol, they have been immensely helpful in addiction research?

…they have advanced our understanding of cancer, epilepsy & Alzheimer’s enormously and can be used to help develop future medicines for these conditions?

…they have functionally similar stem cells and have taught us a great deal about their behavior and regulation?

…they lead the way in dietary research, helping science discover what to eat for healthy ageing?

…Drosophila is the insect behind 10 Nobel laureates in Physiology or Medicine?

Source: Why the fly? | Manchester Fly Facility

And NOW they are helping scientists study the effect of hunger and nutrition on behavior.

Field observations and studies of other lab animals have shown us that the willingness of many animals to take risks increases or decreases depending on whether or not the animal is hungry. (For example, a predator in the wild only hunts more dangerous prey when it is close to starvation.)

In recent years, this behavior has even been documented in humans: one study showed that hungry subjects took significantly more financial risks than their colleagues who had eaten their fill.

In addition, it seems that the fruit fly, Drosophila, changes its behavior depending on its nutritional state.

But how does that work in the brain,
and what can we learn from it?

Read more of this post

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