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About to ask the boss for a raise? Do it when hungry, study suggests

July 22, 2014

For more information, contact: Ben Haimowitz , +1 (718) 398-7642 or +1 (917) 903-9287,

If you're planning to approach your boss for a raise but feel skittish about it, you may do well to skip breakfast that day and meet with the boss before lunch, some new research suggests.

A study entitled "I Need Food and I Deserve a Raise," to be presented at the forthcoming annual meeting of the Academy of Management (Philadelphia, Aug. 1-5), finds that "hunger leads people to feel more entitled... Hungry people think about themselves instead of others and focus on their own needs, which leads them to feel and act entitled."

Meanwhile, for the edification of bosses, the researchers observe that "entitlement can cause big problems in the workplace, so managers might want to provide food to employees or wait to schedule potentially contentious meetings until after lunch." They go on to note that, "although certainly due to a host of factors, organizations with readily available food, such as Google, are also known for having unentitled, grateful, and satisfied employees."

The paper, by Emily Zitek of Cornell University and Alexander Jordan of Dartmouth College, defines psychological entitlement as "the feeling that one is more deserving of positive outcomes than other people are," and explains that "entitled individuals pay attention to themselves and the special treatment that they should receive over other things." While research has tended to focus mainly on social and cognitive causes of increased entitlement, such as recalling an unfair event, the authors posit  that it can also be driven "by amplified levels of a basic physiological drive -- hunger -- which may cause people to turn their focus inward and place their needs above those of others."

They test this hypothesis in two experiments.

In the first, 103 undergraduates were surveyed as they entered or exited a dining hall at lunchtime, enabling the researchers to compare the self-reported entitlement of participants who had not eaten lunch yet with that of those who had. In addition, since entitled individuals are less likely than others to help people, subjects were also asked if they would help the research by filling out an additional survey.

Participants indicated whether they had eaten lunch or not and how hungry they were on a scale of 1 (not at all hungry) to 7 (very hungry). Then they filled out the Psychological Entitlement Scale (PES), an instrument developed in earlier research by other investigators, that consists of a series of statements to which subjects also respond on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 7(strongly agree). The statements include "Great things should come to me," "If I were on the Titanic, I would deserve to be on the first   lifeboat," and "I demand the best because I'm worth it."

The approximate half of participants who had not yet eaten lunch proved much hungrier than those who had done so (5.08 to 1.92 on average), and those who had not eaten had a significantly greater sense of entitlement as measured by the PES (3.48 to 2.89, a difference with less than a 1% percent likelihood of being due to chance). In addition, 78% of those who had eaten lunch, compared to 60% who had not, took the trouble to fill out the extra survey, an indication of the lack of helpfulness of hungry people.

In a second experiment, findings were based on results from 166 students, who were asked to perform a variety of tasks (including completing a survey containing questions from the PES) in a room that did or did not smell like pizza. In the former condition, subjects sat in a lab room in which a frozen pizza was being cooked in a toaster oven. Partway through the experiment someone entered the lab, and, explaining that she was grabbing her lunch, removed the pizza from the oven and exited the room. In the latter condition, there was no pizza cooking, and the only interruption was from an individual who came in to pick up some pencils.

In confirmation of the authors' hypothesis, subjects in the room that smelled of pizza had a significantly stronger sense of entitlement, as measured by the PES, than students in the room without pizza (3.57 to 3.26 on average).

In conclusion, the professors observe that "hunger levels fluctuate through the day, and people's sense of entitlement seems to fluctuate with them" but that "compared to other sources of increased entitlements, such as being treated unfairly...entitlement brought on by hunger should be much more modifiable."

In sum, at a time when "entitlement is on the rise...understanding the relationship between hunger and entitlement is important because it provides one easy way to potentially modify a person's sense of entitlement [which] could have many positive consequences in the workplace, school, or at home."

The study will be among some 4,000 research reports to be presented at the Academy of Management annual meeting, in Philadelphia from August 1st to 5th. Founded in 1936, the Academy of Management is the largest organization in the world devoted to management research and teaching. It has about 19,400 members in 118 countries. This year's annual meeting will draw some 10,000 scholars and practitioners for sessions on a host of subjects relating to business strategy, organizational behavior, corporate governance, careers, human resources, technology development, and other management-related topics.

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