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Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, Uncategorized

A dose of sugar makes the future seem worth waiting for

I wrote a post last fall on the impact of seeing nature on our ability to pass on small rewards now in order to receive bigger rewards in the future. To be honest, I had since forgotten about this but having been in a pretty good deep freeze off and on (but mostly on) for about a month now I’m sure glad I was reminded of this post. Getting into nature with -40 C windchills has been, shall we say, more difficult and I’ve been noticing it. When I get home after work, all I want to do is eat some chocolate or some other sweet thing. This has been very frustrating as I’m also currently training to qualify for a competitive dragon boat team so I’m working really hard on improving my overall health and fitness. I make it to practice because it’s scheduled, and it’s a habit but I admit there have been a few days when I’m supposed to be working out on my own that the couch and the chocolate has just seemed more appealing. However, I just learned that the little dose of chocolate may actually help me to get off the couch and get to the gym.

Quick recap on future discounting. Basically it is when we decide that a future reward isn’t good enough to stop us from doing something for a smaller reward now. For example, the sense of personal achievement and improved fitness that I might get in the future if I get off of the couch and go to the gym, just doesn’t seem worth it when compared to the relaxation that I might get today if I just sit on the couch. Or $10 now seems better than $50 in four weeks. Along with the impacts of nature that I wrote about previously, it turns out that having increasing blood glucose levels (the amount of sugar available in your blood) will increase the value that we place on future rewards. But having decreasing blood glucose levels will increase the value we place on current rewards (Wang & Dvorak, 2010).

Sadly, this is not an excuse to binge on whatever sugar delivery device you prefer. But it does mean that there might be some positive effects of eating (or drinking) a small amount of something sweet before you have to make the choice between doing something that will benefit you in the future and doing something that will benefit you now. It also lends support for providing snacks and breaks to consume those snacks during meetings when big decisions need to be made.

Wang, X. T. & Dvorak, R. D. (2010). Sweet future: Fluctuating blood glucose levels affect future discounting. Psychological Sciences, 21(2), 183-188.

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.


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