Do the impacts of early experiences of hunger affect our behavior, thoughts, and feelings today?

This 2015 worldwide human study Hunger promotes acquisition of nonfood objects found that people’s current degree of hungriness affected their propensity to acquire nonfood items.

The researchers admitted that they didn’t demonstrate cause and effect with the five experiments they performed, although the findings had merit. News articles poked good-natured fun at the findings with headlines such as “Why Hungry People Want More Binder Clips.”

The research caught my eye with these statements:

“Hunger’s influence extends beyond food consumption to the acquisition of nonfood items that cannot satisfy the underlying need.

We conclude that a basic biologically based motivation can affect substantively unrelated behaviors that cannot satisfy the motivation.”

The concept of the quotes relates to a principle of Dr. Arthur Janov’s Primal Therapy – symbolic satisfaction of needs.


I stated two fundamentals of Primal Therapy in An agenda-driven study on beliefs, smoking and addiction that found nothing of substance:

  1. The physiological impacts of our early unmet needs drive our behavior, thoughts, and feelings.
  2. The painful impacts of our unfulfilled needs ensure that we are on the qui vive, impelled to be constantly vigilant for some way to fulfill them.

Corollary principles of Primal Therapy are:

  • Our present efforts to fulfill our early unmet needs will seldom be satisfying. It’s too late.
  • We acquire substitutes now for what we really needed back then.
  • Acquiring these symbols of our early unmet needs may, at best, temporarily satisfy derivative needs.

But the symbolic satisfaction of derived needs – the symptoms – never resolves the impacts of early unfulfilled needs – the motivating causes:

  • We repeat the acquisition behavior, and get caught in a circle of acting out our feelings and impulses driven by these conditions.
  • The unconscious act-outs become sources of misery both to us and to the people around us.

In his book “Primal Healing” Dr. Arthur Janov gives two examples of critical periods only during which early needs can be satisfied:

  1. Being touched in the first months of life is crucial to a child’s development. The lack of close contact after the age of 5 wouldn’t have the same effect.
  2. Conversely, the need for praise at 6 months of age may not be essential, but it’s crucial for children at age 5.

As this study’s finding showed, there’s every reason for us to want researchers to provide a factual blueprint of causes for our hunger sensation effects, such as:

“Unrelated behaviors that cannot satisfy the motivation.”

Why not start with hunger research? Objectives of the research should include answering:

  • What enduring physiological changes occurred as a result of past hunger?
  • How do these changes affect the subjects’ present behaviors, thoughts, and feelings?

Hunger research that would likely provide causal evidence for the effect of why people acquire:

“Items that cannot satisfy the underlying need”

should include studying where to start the timelines for the impacts of hunger. The impacts would potentially go back at least to infancy when we were completely dependent on our caregivers.

Infants can’t get up to go to the refrigerator to satisfy their hunger. All a hungry infant can do is call attention to their need, and feel pain from the deprivation of their need.

Is infancy far back enough, though, to understand the beginnings of potential impacts of hunger? The Non-PC alert: Treating the mother’s obesity symptoms positively affects the post-surgery offspring study referenced an older study of how the hunger of mothers-to-be had lifelong ill effects for the fetuses they carried during the Dutch hunger winter of 1944. The exposed children had epigenetic DNA changes from their mothers’ starvation, which resulted in relative obesity compared with their unexposed siblings.

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