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Exploring the Impact of Short-Term Food Deprivation on Cognitive Performance

Jan 11, 2023 | 0 comments

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Jan 11, 2023 | Essays | 0 comments


The ability of people to focus on tasks is interrupted by many things. The environmental factors can be controlled to some extent by people (Green et al, 1995). However, what of the internal factors that cause distraction such as the empty stomachs? Can focusing ability be increased by simply regularly eating?

Earlier investigations on the effects of starvation and food deprivation got that food deprivation for long term (36 hours and longer) was linked to depression, sluggishness, reduced heart rate, irritability and concentration inability (DeRose et al, 1998). Moreover, Kowalski (1987) points out that another research found that several days of fasting produced irritability, muscular weakness and depression or apathy. Since then studies has focused on how cognition is affected by nutrition. The sparse research on effects of food deprivation has created a void for further studies. Up to date no research has investigated perseverance despite its significance in cognitive functioning. According to McLeod (2002), perseverance can be a better indicator other than achievement tests in growth assessments in thinking abilities and learning as perseverance assists in complex problems solving. Testing as many cognition aspects as possible is the solution because the tasks nature is important when doing interpretation of the link between cognitive performance and food deprivation (Crumpton et al, 1966).

Therefore, this research will help us understand how food deprivation for a short term affects perseverance and concentration with a difficult task. Particularly, participants starved for 24 hours will be expected to perform worse on perseverance task and concentration test than the ones starved for 12 hours who in turn are predicted to perform worse than the ones who were not starved.


(I) Participants

Participants will include 51 volunteer students (19 males and 32 females). Exclusion of the potential participants will be done if they will be menstruating, dieting or on special medication. Furthermore, the ones who had struggled or are struggling with eating disorder or addicts of caffeine and nicotine will be excluded.

(ii) Materials

Accuracy and concentration speed will be measured using number matching test found online (www.psychtests.com/tests/iq/concentration.html) which contained 25 numbers in 6 lines each as suggested by Eisenberger (1980) . Participants will be required in 6 minutes to find in each line pairs of numbers that can add up to 10. Scores will be calculated as a percentage correctly pairs identified out of possible 120 (Eisenberger, 1980).

On the hand, perseverance will be measured with a puzzle containing five octagons. Every octagon will include a specific object stencil such as flower or animal. The octagons will be piled on top of another in a particular way to make a rabbit silhouette. However, three of the identified shapes will be altered slightly to make the task impossible. Finally, perseverance scores will be calculated as a number of minutes spent by a participant on the puzzle before giving up (Green, Elliman & Rogers, 1995).


After following all the procedures and doing the experiment, the results were as follows. Three questions of manipulation check indicated that every participant followed the rules and perceived correctly their deprivation condition. The average score for concentration was 77.78 with a standard deviation of 14.21 which was good. An average time of 24 minutes with standard deviation of 10.16 was averagely spent on the puzzle. From our prediction that 24 hour deprivation grouped participants would perform on the perseverance task and concentration test worse than 12 hour group participants, who would in turn perform worse than control group participants. From one way ANOVA, the results portrayed no significant effect of starvation condition on the concentration.

On another ANOVA showed a significant effect on starvation condition on time for perseverance. Post-hoc Turkey showed that the group of 12 hour deprivation spent less time than the control group or the 24 hour group on the perseverance task, with no remarkable difference between the two latter groups.

No effect was found on the gender. Unexpectedly, deprivation of food on the concentration scores had no significant effect. The hypothesis was supported that 12 hour deprivation of food would impair significantly perseverance than no deprivation. Unexpectedly, food deprivation for 24 hours did not affect perseverance significantly compared to the control group. Also unexpectedly, deprivation of food did not affect scores significantly.


In conclusion, the study results give fascinating insights into the physiological and cognitive effects of skipping food. Other researches and this research to come will provide knowledge on the disadvantages of skipping meals. The study’s mixed results show that there is much to be learnt on short term deprivation of food.


Green, M. W., Elliman, N. A., & Rogers, P. J. (January 01, 1995). Lack of effect of short-term fasting on cognitive function. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 29, 3.)

DeRose, L. F., Messer, E., & Millman, S. (1998). Who’s hungry? and how do we know?: Food shortage, poverty, and deprivation. Tokyo: United Nations University.

Kowalski, R. E. (1987). The 8-week cholesterol cure: How to lower your blood cholesterol by up to 40 percent without drugs or deprivation. New York: Harper & Row.

McLeod, L., & Veall, M. R. (2002). The dynamics of food deprivation and overall health: Evidence from the Canadian National Population Health Survey. Bonn: IZA.

Crumpton, E., Wine, D. B., & Drenick, E. J. (January 01, 1966). Starvation: stress or satisfaction?. Jama : the Journal of the American Medical Association, 196, 5, 394-6.

Eisenberger, R., & Leonard, J. M. (June 01, 1980). Effects of Conceptual Task Difficulty on Generalized Persistence. The American Journal of Psychology, 93, 2, 285-298.

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