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Mediation: I am Too Hungry to Decide

PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack

Recently, I conducted a mediation that went much longer than expected. It started at 11:00 am and after a couple of hours, I could see that the session would not conclude anytime soon, so I ordered lunch for everyone. Around dinner time, it appeared that we would soon be finished so I did not order dinner. The mediation ended around 8:30 pm when the plaintiff walked out in frustration because although defendant had accepted the deal, she wanted to check on one small item before signing on the dotted line. Unbeknownst to me, this small detail was an emotional trigger for plaintiff and so annoyed plaintiff that she got up and walked out. The small item was checked out, and defendant confirmed the settlement. However, by then, plaintiff had walked out. Plaintiff’s counsel advised she would proceed as though the matter had settled by documenting it and sending the agreement around for signature. While I believe the parties have a deal, I will not know for sure until it is documented and signed.

The above brings out a valuable point. A recent study puts it succinctly:

Hungry people are often difficult to deal with. A good meal can affect more than just our mood; it can also influence our willingness to take risk. (

Previous studies have shown that:

… Animal behavior is radically affected by the availability and amount of food. Studies prove the willingness of many animals to take risks increases or declines depending on whether the animal is hungry or full. For example, a predator only hunts more dangerous prey when it is close to starvation. This behavior has also been documented in humans in recent years; one study showed that hungry subjects took significantly more financial risks than their sated colleagues. (Id.)

In this study, scientists at the Max Planck Institute conducted experiments with the fruit fly, Drosophila, which feed on rotting fruit and plants which release carbon dioxide. Fruit flies though perceive low quantities of carbon dioxide as a danger signal and flee.

In the study, the scientists presented the flies with “… environments containing carbon dioxide or a mix of carbon dioxide and the smell of food.” (Id.). In response, the hungry fruit flies overcame their fear of the carbon dioxide much faster than the sated fruit flies. That is, when confronted with food, a hungry fruit fly (like a human) will take the greater risk, in order to eat and become full.

Why? It seems that when the fruit fly is really hungry, the nerve cell in its body that is instrumental in triggering the “flight ” response is ignored and instead the fruit fly, like humans, looks at other internal and external factors and makes a decision whether the reward of eating is worth the risk of the danger at hand.

So… the moral is when making a decision, do it on a full stomach.

…. Just something to think about.


Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE >

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