Running on Empty: The Effects of Food Deprivation
on Concentration and Perseverance
Many things interrupt people’s ability to focus on a task: distractions, headaches, noisy environments, and even psychological disorders. To some extent, people can control the environmental factors that make it difficult to focus. However, what about internal factors, such as an empty stomach? Can people increase their ability to focus simply by eating regularly?
One theory that prompted research on how food intake affects the average person was the glucostatic theory. Several researchers in the 1940s and 1950s suggested that the brain regulates food intake in order to maintain a blood-glucose set point. The idea was that people become hungry when their blood-glucose levels drop significantly below their set point and that they become satisfied after eating, when their blood-glucose levels return to that set point. This theory seemed logical because glucose is the brain’s primary fuel (Pinel, 2000). The earliest investigation of the general effects of food deprivation found that long-term food deprivation (36 hours and longer) was associated with sluggishness, depression, irritability, reduced heart rate, and inability to concentrate (Keys, Brozek, Henschel, Mickelsen, & Taylor, 1950). Another study found that fasting for several days produced muscular weakness, irritability, and apathy or depression (Kollar, Slater, Palmer, Docter, & Mandell, 1964). Since that time, research has focused mainly on how nutrition affects cognition. However, as Green, Elliman, and Rogers (1995) point out, the effects of food deprivation on cognition have received comparatively less attention in recent years. Center the
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Running on Empty 4
The relatively sparse research on food deprivation has left room for further research. First, much of the research has focused either on chronic starvation at one end of the continuum or on missing a...
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