Journal Article

Hungry bellies have no ears. How and why hunger inhibits sustainable consumption

Ecological Economics, 160: 96-140

While reports state that consumers are increasingly willing to consume more sustainably, no study has considered how the activation of very basic human needs, such as the state of hunger, affects sustainable food consumption. The authors expect that hungry consumers display a lower preference for sustainable food items and that this hunger-induced imprint on food consumption patterns must be traced back to the fact that the activation of very fundamental human needs contaminate stereotypical perceptions of sustainable products. More importantly, hunger primarily operates spontaneously, as well as automatically, and affects perceptions, which are difficult to control (and which sometimes go unnoticed). A laboratory experiment studied this premise by sampling 166 participants with eighteen hours of actual food deprivation, half of them having breakfast before and the other half after completing the experimental tasks. The participants who had breakfast show a stronger tendency to choose sustainable products, which can be traced back to implicit gentleness-associations concerning sustainable products in the implicit association test (IAT). Albeit explicitly held beliefs also influence choices, these judgments are not affected by food deprivation. A field study then replicates the findings in a real-life setting.


Stefan Hoffmann
Wassili Lasarov
Robert Mai