Food marketers love hungry customers as they are certainly in a state where tantalizing images may be particularly effective. Oddly, it turns out that hungry people may take in all kinds of information more quickly. The New York Times recently reported on the findings of Yale researchers in Empty-Stomach Intelligence:

A team led by Tamas Horvath, chairman of Yale’s comparative medicine program, had been analyzing the pathways followed in mouse brains by ghrelin, a hormone produced by the stomach lining, when the stomach is empty. To the scientists’ surprise, they found that ghrelin was binding to cells not just in the primitive part of the brain that registers hunger (the hypothalamus) but also in the region that plays a role in learning, memory and spatial analysis (the hippocampus).

The researchers then put mice injected with ghrelin and control mice through a maze and other intelligence tests. In each case, the biochemically “hungry” mice – mice infused with ghrelin – performed notably better than those with normal levels of the hormone.

According to the article, the findings are likely to apply to humans as well as rodents. In fact, the societal implications may be profound:

Since overweight kids have suppressed ghrelin levels, Horvath theorizes that perhaps the obesity epidemic has contributed to declining test scores and other American educational woes.

It’s hard to assign a lot of neuromarketing value to this interesting research, although it does seem likely that slightly hungry consumers may be susceptible to more than just fast food ads. Perhaps those “advertising placemats” in small restaurants are more sophisticated marketing vehicles than they appear to be. And maybe product and movie promotions in fast food chains are based on more than pure demographics. It’s just a wee bit possible that this pre-dining is hitting consumers when they are most receptive. (Thanks to Rob May at Business Pundit for reporting on the entrepreneurial implications of the work in Starving Startups.)

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