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The purpose of this study was to test how different levels of food

deprivation affect concentration on and perseverance with difficult tasks.

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Figure 2.

No deprivation 12-hour deprivation 24-hour deprivation

Deprivation Condition

The researchers

restate their hypotheses

and the results, and

go on to interpret

those results.



Running on Empty 9

We predicted that the longer people had been deprived of food, the lower

they would score on the concentration task, and the less time they would

spend on the perseverance task. In this study, those deprived of food did

give up more quickly on the puzzle, but only in the 12-hour group. Thus,

the hypothesis was partially supported for the perseverance task. However,

concentration was found to be unaffected by food deprivation, and thus

the hypothesis was not supported for that task.

The findings of this study are consistent with those of Green et al.

(1995), where short-term food deprivation did not affect some aspects

of cognition, including attentional focus. Taken together, these findings

suggest that concentration is not significantly impaired by short-term

food deprivation. The findings on perseverance, however, are not as easily

explained. We surmise that the participants in the 12-hour group gave up

more quickly on the perseverance task because of their hunger produced

by the food deprivation. But why, then, did those in the 24-hour group

fail to yield the same effect? We postulate that this result can be explained

by the concept of “learned industriousness,” wherein participants who

perform one difficult task do better on a subsequent task than the

participants who never took the initial task (Eisenberger & Leonard,

1980; Hickman, Stromme, & Lippman, 1998). Because participants

had successfully completed 24 hours of fasting already, their tendency

to persevere had already been increased, if only temporarily. Another

possible explanation is that the motivational state of a participant may be

a significant determinant of behavior under testing (Saugstad, 1967). This

idea may also explain the short perseverance times in the 12-hour group:

because these participants took the tests at 10 p.m., a prime time of the

night for conducting business and socializing on a college campus, they

may have been less motivated to take the time to work on the puzzle.

Research on food deprivation and cognition could continue in several

directions. First, other aspects of cognition may be affected by short-term

food deprivation, such as reading comprehension or motivation. With

respect to this latter topic, some students in this study reported decreased

motivation to complete the tasks because of a desire to eat immediately

The writers speculate

on possible explanations

for the unexpected

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