Gailliot Matthew T.

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On Held Breath or Hunger, Focal Information

is Rated More Important:

Does Want of Resource Render Important Consuming, Resource-Contingent Psychological Phenomena?


Might that of focal thought be more important when the resources on which such thought relies are of want? The prediction was increased importance for targets of thought with want of air or food. Resource for thought are of want, yet thought occurs, therefore that which is thought about must be more important. Ratings of importance for a potpourri of items were increased among participants who held their breath while rating those items, relative to ratings of participants who breathed normally (Study 1). Self-reported hunger correlated positively with importance ratings of co-occurring thought content (Study 2).

On Held Breath or Hunger, Focal Information is Rated More Important: Does Want of Resource Render Important Consuming, Resource-Contingent Psychological Phenomena?

     What might sighs, gasps, choking, pouting, ‘hmmph!’, and the phrases, “You take my breath away” and “Don’t hold your breath,” have in common? All might pertain to strength of importance based on resource want. The child holds his breath, until red in the face, to signal the importance of his desire for the candy bar. A ‘hmmph!’ declares the import of being wronged socially. One chokes another to flag importance. To take another’s breath away is to be important. ‘Don’t hold your breath,’ is a command to assign unimportance to a factor. Prolonged pause in breathing during sighs and gasps cooccur with important realization or communication. 
     Each of the preceding examples pertain to air - sighs and gasps are of paused breath, choking prevents breathing, pouting may be accomplished with held breath, and the social significance of a ‘hmmph’ may vary to the extent that nonbreath is prolonged at its end. Air is a basic resource, suggesting that an economic, or resource, theory may be proposed to explain perceptions of importance. The aim of the current work was to use such theory to advance understanding of judgment and decisions on importance.
     Economic relationship assessed in the current work requires three criteria: 1) generally positive relationship between resource and resource-contingents (more resource, more contingents; absence of resource, absence of contingents), 2) resource as fuel for contingent (contingents occur in step with provision and use of resource), and 3) contingents consume resource. In the current work, air and food constituted resource, focal thought constituted contingent. Air and food hold economic relationship with focal thought: 1) increased focal thought with increased air and food (e.g., as evident from hypoglycemia and comatosis, sleep and brain activity); absence of air and food, absence of focal thought, 2) focal thought occurs in step with provision and use of metabolized air and foodstuff (e.g., oxygen and glucose), 3) occurrence of focal thought consumes air and foodstuff. 
     To the extent that a resource is low or of halted incoming, and to the extent that a contingent uses resource, the contingent increases in perceived importance. If a is resource for b, then want of a increases perceived importance of b. 
     In the current work, a is defined either as air (Study 1) or food (Study 2), whereas b is defined as focal thought content. Air and food constitute resource for thought, therefore want of air or food is predicted to increased perceived importance of thought. With occurrence of thought despite want of resource, that which is thought about must be more important. It may be truistic that, during extreme want - upon strangulation or starvation, for example - focal thought would orient immediately and repetitively toward obtainment of air or food - definitively important thought. Maintaining held breath defined want of air in Study 1, whereas hunger defined want of food in Study 2. 
     judgments of importance have been studied in the context of, or relate to, a breadth of topics, including major life needs and job (Porter, 1963), consumer product and effort (Cardozo, 1965), thought accessibility and self-esteem (Pyszczynski, Greenberg, Solomon, Arndt, & Schimel, 2004), disease and health (Benyamini, Leventhal, & Leventhal, 2003), and life and death (Steinhauser, Christakis, Clipp, McNeilly, McIntyre, & Tulsky, 2000). These findings are vaguely consistent with the current hypothesis yet only loosely relevant and, according to the requirements of the proposed resource-contingent relationship, strictly inapplicable. That the reviewed literature on importance judgments pertains little to the current hypothesis suggests novelty. Resource or economic models are widely applicable, indicating potentially high value of this work. 
     Is it hypothesized that held breath (Study 1) and hunger (Study 2) relate positively to importance of focal thought. The hypothesis is competitive - alternative and opposing theory may be suggested. Resource want may, for example, reduce perceived importance of contingents, due to conservation of resource across time or for other contingents. Or, homeostatic tendencies may function to stabilize or decrease perceived importance of contingents during resource want. 

Study 1 - Increased Importance with Breath Held

     Air is a most common, widespread resource. From the air we derive oxygen that affords psychological thought. The dynamics of air and breathing are absent from many psychological journals and texts. The study of air as influential resource on judgment therefore is of worth. 
     Participants rated the importance of various items - held in current focal attention - while either holding their breath or breathing normally. Air is, in a sense, of want with held breath, but to a lesser extent with normal breathing. Because air is a resource for focal thought, holding one’s breath, relative to breathing normally, is predicted to increase the perceived importance of focal thought and, hence, the extent of item importance.


     Participants. The researcher approached individuals in frequented public areas with invite to complete a questionnaire activity. Forty-one individuals who agreed to participate constituted the final sample. 
     Procedure. The author developed a questionnaire in English that was subsequently translated into Turkish (see Appendix). The questionnaire included 10 items that varied in importance (in order of presentation - a loaf of bread, a speck of dirt, human life, the life of a cat, the life of a fly, a frying pan, pigeon poop, the appendix, the heart, water) and instructions to rate each item on the extent of its importance, using a 7-point scale (1 - not at all important, 4 - somewhat important, 7 - very important), making response on line preceding each item. Instructions indicated to either hold one’s breath while completing the questionnaire or to breath normally. In both this and the second study, some participants completed the questionnaire activity with assistance from the researcher or nearby person. 
     Data were analyzed (in this and Study 2) using Numbers statistical spreadsheet computer program. A one-tailed between-subjects t-test assessed for difference in mean importance ratings (based on a composite of the 10-items) between participants who held their breath and participants who breathed normally. 

Results and Discussion

     Participants who held their breath rated the items (M = 5.22, SD = 1.55) as more important than did participants who breathed normally (M = 4.80, SD = .75), t(39) = 1.65, p = .05, d = .34, r = .17. It is unknown whether holding breath reduced the amount of air-resource (e.g., oxygen). A complimentary method is to vary air content (e.g., levels of carbon dioxide or oxygen) during decision-making on importance.  

Study 2 - Hunger Correlates Positively with Thought Importance

     Every thought and behavior relies on glucose - derived from food. Glucose has been found to be lower with greater hunger (Ciampolini & Bianchi, 2006) and so resource want may occur with hunger. 
     Participants were asked to report their current hunger and the importance of what they were thinking about. Because food is a resource for focal thought, the extent of self-reported hunger is predicted to correlate positively with self-report ratings of the importance of current thought.


     Participants. The researcher approached individuals in frequented public areas and at Zirve Üniversitesi with invite to complete a questionnaire. Ninety-one individuals who agreed to participate constituted the final sample.
     Procedure. The survey contained three questions, appearing in both English and Turkish: 1) How hungry are you?, 2) What are you thinking about?, and 3) How important is that which you are thinking about?. Responses to items 1 and 3 were made by circling response on a 7-point scale (1 - not at all, 7 - very).1 Responses to item 2 were open-ended. Item 1 and items 2 and 3 were counterbalanced across participants. The researcher handed the questionnaire to participants and requested that they complete it.
     Pearson r correlation coefficients indicated the relationship between self-reported hunger and importance of thought. Additional correlational analyses and z-score tests (with the latter computed using assessed for relationship with counterbalancing condition and item-2 responses pertaining to food.

Results and Discussion

     Ratings of hunger correlated significantly and positively with ratings of thought importance, r(89) = .26, p < .05. Want of food - greater hunger - related to stronger ratings of importance of thought content. 
     The strength of the correlation between hunger and thought importance differed nonsignificantly between counterbalancing conditions, z = .78, ns, and between participants who either did or did not report having thoughts related to food, z = 1.07, ns. The latter suggests that the relationship between hunger and thought importance was not attributable to hungry participants thinking about eating. 

General Discussion

     Want of resource may increase the perceived importance of resource-contingents that concurrently consume resource. Want of air - in the form of holding one’s breath (Study 1) - and of food - in the form of hunger (Study 2), were either causally or correlationally linked to increased self-reported importance of items in focal thought. 
     The reported phenomenon may be explained in numerous ways (see Table 1). A few moderators seem plausible (see Table 2). One issue is whether holding one’s breath and hunger were related to increased importance because want of resource increases perceptions of importance for consuming contingents or directs focal thought to that which is important. That the effect emerged in response to questionnaire items (Study 1) supports the view of focal thought increasing in importance. Either explanation may explain why hunger was associated with increased ratings of importance of concurrent thought content.

Novel Applications and Limitations

     The work may be extended by viewing self-esteem as resource for anxiety avoidance (Pyszczynski et al., 2004), with experiencing anxiety as potentially reducing self-esteem and self-esteem allowing avoidance of anxiety. From theory suggested in the current work, want of self-esteem (e.g., low or decreased self-esteem) is predicted to increase importance of anxiety avoidance (e.g., conservation of resources for anxiety avoidance, altered thought and behavior so as to avoid anxiety). 
     That want of resource increases importance of contingents may explain emotion. Stifled breathing during anxiety may augment perceived importance of anxiety-evoking thought or threat. Rumination may occur during sadness because a lack of energy incurs import to depleting or low energy cognition. Low glucose and other metabolic factors might increase aggression (Gailliot & Baumeister, 2007) by highlighting focal, aggression-consistent thought.
     Drinking alcohol can reduce blood (Kokavec & Crowe, 2003) and brain-regional (Zhu, Volkow, Ma, Fowler, & Wang, 2004) glucose levels, which suggests a mechanism through which salient environmental or internal stimuli become importantly myopic (Steele & Josephs, 1990). Depletion of self-control (Muraven & Baumeister, 2000) or metabolic (Gailliot et al., 2007) resource by acts of self-control may highlight their importance, a theory consistent with findings showing that larger decreases in blood-glucose during the Stroop task predicted larger increases in learning (Gailliot, 2009). Perhaps the decreases in glucose paralleled having found the Stroop task important. Thoughts of food and weight may bombard in psychological importance among people experiencing anorexia or bulimia (e.g., after purging) - during want of caloric resource -thereby promoting continued disorder. The businessperson may more capably shift importance among the hungered consumer breathing oxygen-thinned air during a trip to the mountaintop than among the well-fed at sea level. Those who seek influence may wish to, ‘Sneak away breakfast, slip in the thought’. 
     Dynamics of both normal and disordered breathing (asthma, smoking) and foodstuff provision may signal importance of psychological event. Yet, greater specificity may be achieved. For example, does want pertain to cultural, environmental, bodily, cerebral, or neuronal resource? Does want influence importance of contingents indirectly related to the resource? 

Final Remarks

     Due to vomiting of undigested foodstuff, the toilet may be the strongest cue to the importance of sobriety among drinkers. The punch to head - and accompanying halting of typical breath - aggrandizes thought of retaliation within the boxer. ‘Take heed, my importance!’, the perpetrator screams metaphorically at mind of stabbed victim, blood pooling on ground. On final breath of life, is departing thought meaningfully important, or mundane? The wanted resources of breath, blood, and foregoing foodstuff may have shaped human nature and culture via economics of the salient, potent mind. In closing, life occurs via the resource of existence - want of existence renders life meaningfully important, the death trivial among those without want of eternal existence. 


Benyamini, Y., Leventhal, E. A., & Leventhal, H. (2003). Elderly people’s ratings of the importance of health-related factors to their self-assessments of health. Social Science and Medicine, 56, 8, 1661-1667.

Cardozo, R. N. (1965). An experimental study of customer effort, expectation and satisfaction. Journal of Marketing Research, 2, 244-249.

Ciampolini, M, & Bianchi, R. (2006). Training to estimate blood glucose and to form associations with initial hunger. Nutrition and Metabolism, 3, 42.

Gailliot, M. T. (2009). Improved self-control associated with using relatively large amounts of glucose: Learning self-control is metabolically expensive. Submitted.

Gailliot, M.T., & Baumeister, R.F. (2007). The physiology of willpower: Linking blood glucose to self-control. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 11, 303-327.

Gailliot, M. T., Baumeister, R. F., DeWall, C. N., Maner, J. K., Plant, E. A., Tice, D. M., Brewer, L. E., & Schmeichel, B. J. (2007). Self-Control relies on glucose as a limited energy source: Willpower is more than a metaphor. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 325-336.

Kokavec, A., & Crowe, S. F. (2003). Effect on plasma insulin and plasma glucose of consuming white wine alone after a meal. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 27, 1718-1723.

Muraven, M., & Baumeister, R. F. (2000). Self-regulation and depletion of limited resources: Does self-control resemble a muscle? Psychological Bulletin, 126, 247–259.

Porter, L. W. (1963). Job attitudes in management: II. Perceived importance of needs as a function of job level. Journal of Applied Psychology, 47, 2, 141-148.

Pyszczynski, T., Greenberg, J., Solomon, S., Arndt, J., & Schimel, J. (2004). Why do people need self-esteem? A theoretical and empirical review. Psychological Bulletin, 130, 435-468.

Steele, C. M., & Josephs, R. A. (1990). Alcohol myopia: Its prized and dangerous effects. American Psychologist, 8, 921-933.

Steinhauser, K. E., Christakis, N. A., Clipp, E. C., McNeilly, M., McIntyre, L., & Tulsky, J. A. (2000). Factors considered important at the end of life by patients, family, physicians, and other care providers. Journal of American Medical Association, 284, 19, 2476-2482.

Zhu, W., Volkow, N. D., Ma, Y., Fowler, J. S., & Wang, G.-J. (2004). Relationships between ethanol-induced changes in brain regional metabolism and its motor, behavioural and cognitive effects. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 39, 53-58.

Table 1

Explanatory Views for Hypothesized Effect and Elaboration Thereupon

Explanatory View Elaboration of View

Heuristic judgment is guided by resource want and consumption of contingent.

Effort Holding breath and hunger increased perceived or actual effort expended. That toward which effort is devoted is more important.

Cognitive Load Holding breath or hunger increase actual or perceived cognitive load. That incurred under load seems more important.

Transfer/Pairing Factors concomitant with air or food want are paired with or transferred to contingents. For example, increased motivation to breathe or eat may spillover to perceptions of importance of thought.

Incurred Addition The focal thought occurs in addition to holding breath or hunger. That which is added may be assumed more important, such as when compensation in the form of lessened process does not occur.

Depletion of Stored Upon held breath or hunger, thought is processed via catabolizing

Resource stored resource (e.g., cerebral glycogen). Increased catabolism connotes importance.

Comparative Process Nonresource contingents are devalued during want, thereby increasing relative value of contingents.

Perception-Expression Contingents may be perceived of or communicated as important.

Table 2

Moderator Explanation of Moderation

Focal or Periphery During want, increased conferred value of contingents may occur

Attention primarily for focal contingents. In absence of want, periphery or ignored information may be devalued - there is ample resource for processing, yet the information is not processed focally, therefore it must be less valuable.

Awareness of Availability Want may especially influence importance judgments when or Want highly salient.

Resource Cost or Gain Contingents that provide, rather than take away, resource (e.g., thoughts toward food attainment) may be more likely to be perceived as important during want. The importance of low cost contingents (e.g., automatic or nonconscious processes) may be less influenced by want.

Response to Want Enjoyment of hunger may cast a rosy-glow on evaluated contingents.

Time judgments formed or activated during want may be altered for varying amounts of time.

Aspects of judgment Whether the extent of judgment is stable or fluctuating, weak or strong, increasing or decreasing


1 Turkish anchors for item 3 were omitted from 14 questionnaires. The strength of the correlation between self-reported hunger and importance of thought differed nonsignificantly, z = 1.06, p = .27.


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