One of the conveniences in having a drink in an Eastland’s pub is that you can do your shopping as well as watch football, have a meal, catch up with friends while your car is washed. The shopping ranges from clothes, jackets, t-shirts, socks to spanners and toys for the kids. There is always a question as to whether the sellers of such goods really make good sales or are just watching football for free. Science suggests it may be the latter.
Many of us think of ourselves as rational decision-makers able to follow the model that involves; problem definition, identifying alternative solutions, evaluating the alternatives, then making the decision before implementing and evaluating the decision made.
But we make many decisions in a day, some major, some important, some trivial and some seemingly trivial but important in the long run. The choices we make about food fall into the last category and what happens in the pub is an example.
Psychologists have long studied decision-making in people and know that external factors influence the kind of decisions we make. A typical casino for example is designed without windows or any cue that can alert you to what time it is. You are fed at regular intervals and the décor and colours are designed to keep you within the building, hopefully removing money from your pocket in games that are stacked against you.
Every time someone wins there is some noise to encourage those on the verge of quitting to play just one more time. Supermarkets play the same psychology putting sweets, chocolates and other impulse buys near the till where as you stand in the queue, you decide, why not? But internal factors can also influence decision-making.
In one experiment a psychologist made one group drink lots of water while the control group just sipped on some water. Then the two groups were tested on their decision-making abilities. The experimental group, by now legs crossed with full bladders were better able to exercise self-control and hold out for larger rewards.
That is, if you are buying something expensive or have a big decision to make then best to have a full bladder. The rationale is that if you are able to hold your bladder, you are able to resist other temptations too. So the sellers in a pub have a better chance of selling to you, when you have just come back from the loo.
But it is not just the pressure of your bladder that influences your decision-making. Women know that especially men when sexually aroused will make decisions that at any other time would be considered reckless. Experiments show that this is true and further that people do not realize the extent to which they are being influenced by their libidos.
There is a further level of influence of decision-making and that is at the physiological level. Studies show that the level of blood sugar also affects decision-making. In one famous study chances of a prisoner getting parole following judicial review depended on whether the case came up at the very beginning of the workday or after a food break.
The theory behind this curious fact is decision-making takes energy. The brain needs pure glucose to function and so whenever the blood sugar is a little low the brain wants to shut down and so makes the easiest decision it can.
Further in this theory of ‘ego depletion’, in every day life, self control is like a muscle that gets tired just like any physical muscle. Therefore every time we make a decision to deny ourselves something we desire, that chocolate, that sukumawiki we drain our reserves.
Once exhausted the brain shuts down and we splurge the other way despite our best intentions. Most of us know that when we are tired we should not make any big decisions and that sleep is then a good thing.
Unfortunately for many of us the point when we are tired, hungry and depleted of energy is also the point when we reach the house. It is almost a no-contest how much food and TV we will inhale as a result. In the morning we leave the house without eating anything, navigating traffic and reaching the workplace low on blood sugar. At lunchtime we are surrounded by the smell of fried food.
Is it any wonder many of us succumb to having unhealthy eating habits? The advice to start the day with a good breakfast is a good one. If later you find yourself in a pub, drink moderately, alcohol depletes blood sugar, and do not empty your bladder. That way you will reach home with most of your money and health.