Does Sugar Get You to Play Along?

By Jeremy Singer-Vine

A boost in blood sugar appears to increase the perceived value of future rewards, according to a study in Psychological Science. Researchers asked 65 college students seven questions about delayed rewards, such as, “Would you prefer $120 tomorrow or $450 in 31 days?” (To encourage participants to answer truthfully, researchers gave them a chance, by rolling dice, to win one of their choices.) Half the participants then each drank a sugary, caffeine-free soda, while the other subjects drank artificially sweetened sodas. Ten minutes later, the subjects answered another set of seven delayed-rewards questions. Those who drank the sugary soda were more likely to accept future rewards than they had been before the soda. Those who drank the diet soda actually valued future rewards slightly less than before. The researchers hypothesized that, for evolutionary reasons, when we have more energy in reserve the perceived cost of waiting for rewards decreases. They also suggested that thinking about the future, because it is an abstract concept, might require more energy, which sugar provides.

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