Amid the privations of World War II, 36 guys voluntarily starved themselves so that researchers and also relief employees could learn about how to assist world recover from starvation.

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By Dr. David Baker and Natacha Keramidas

October 2013, Vol 44, No. 9

Print version: page 66

6 min read


Baker, D. B., & Keramidas, N. (2013, October). The psychology of hunger. Sdl.Web.DataModel.KeywordModelFile, 44(9). http://www.soimg.org/monitor/2013/10/hunger

In November 1944, 36 young men took up residence in the corridors and also rooms of the University of Minnesota footround stadium. They were not members of the football team. Rather, they were volunteers preparing for a nearly yearlengthy experiment on the mental and physiological results of starvation. Known as the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, the research was a job of the freshly establimelted Laboratory of Physiological Hygiene at the College of Minnesota, an interdisciplinary study school through a focus on nutrition and also humale biology.

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At the moment, World War II was raging about the world, and also so, too, were hunger and also starvation. Over the centuries, civilization had actually recorded anecdotal reports of the effects of famine and starvation, but there was little bit in the clinical literature that defined its physiological and psychological effects. Just as crucial, physicians and researchers didn"t understand just how to help human being rehabilitate and recoup from starvation.Eager to take on the difficulty was Ancel Keys, PhD, the physiologist in charge of the Minnesota lab. The lab"s chief psychologist, Josef Brozek, PhD, was responsible for gathering the mental data on the effects of starvation. Brozek had completed his doctdental level in 1937 at Charles College in Prague with interests in applied psychology, physiology and also physical sociology, and also joined the Minnesota lab in 1941.Amongst his duties, Brozek promoted recruiting topics for the research. In previous nutrition researches at the lab, Keys had attracted subjects from the ranks of the Civilian Public Service (CPS). Throughout World War II, the CPS provided conscientious objectors an different to military combat service. These objectors were frequently described as human guinea pigs because of their willingness to serve in medical experiments. Keys kbrand-new from endure that many kind of conscientious objectors were eager to do coherent work-related that would certainly advantage mankind and was confident that the starvation experiment would certainly attract the needed volunteers.Subject selection was stringent. Subjects had to be male, single and demonstrate excellent physical and also psychological health and wellness (mainly based on the freshly arisen Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory). They also had to present an ability to get alengthy well through others under trying circumstances and also an interest in relief work-related. The final 36 men were selected from more than 200 volunteers and also in November 1944 made their way to the University of Minnesota to begin their business.The research study protocol referred to as for the men to shed 25 percent of their normal body weight. They invested the initially three months of the examine eating a normal diet of 3,200 calories a day, complied with by 6 months of semi-starvation at 1,570 calories a day (split in between breakquick and lunch), then a restricted rehabilitation period of three months eating 2,000 to 3,200 calories a day, and also ultimately an eight-week unlimited rehabilitation duration throughout which tright here were no limits on caloric intake. Their diet had foodstuffs extensively easily accessible in Europe in the time of the war, largely potatoes, root vegetables, bread and macaroni. The men were forced to work 15 hrs per week in the lab, walk 22 miles per week and also get involved in a range of educational tasks for 25 hours a week. Throughout the experiment, the researchers measured the physiological and also emotional alters brought on by near starvation.

Throughout the semi-starvation phase the alters were dramatic. Beyond the gaunt appearance of the males, tright here were considerable decreases in their toughness and stamina, body temperature, heart rate and also sex drive. The emotional impacts were substantial as well. Hunger made the men obsessed through food. They would dream and also fantadimension about food, read and also talk about food and also savor the two meals a day they were offered. They reported tiredness, irritability, depression and also soimg.orgthy. Interestingly, the males likewise reported decreases in psychological csoimg.orgcity, although psychological testing of the males did not support this idea.

For some men, the research proved also tough. File from three subjects were excluded as a result of their breaking the diet and also a fourth was excluded for not meeting expected weight loss purposes.

The guys and also the examine ended up being topics of nationwide interest, even showing up in Life magazine in 1945. But in some means, civilization occasions overtook the research. The battle in Europe finished on May 8, 1945, barely halfmethod through the starvation phase of the experiment. Keys and the males worried that the information they had sacrificed for would not acquire to relief employees and the starving people they wiburned to serve in time to assist them. Relief efforts were underway and there was no clear guide for rehabilitating those that were starving.

In response, members of Keys staff prepared a 70-page booklet, Men and also Hunger: A Psychological Manual for Relief Workers. The book offered valuable advice based on lessons learned in the lab.

The Minnesota Starvation Experiment ended in October 1945. Its results painted a vivid image of the physical and also psychological decline led to by starvation and available guidelines on rehabilitation. In the minimal rehabilitation, calories were increased in increments. The experiment additionally looked at unlimited rehabilitation and — even though participants were warned against it — some engaged in excessive overeating. Of the miscellaneous diets and supplements that were studied during the rehabilitation phase of the experiment, the a lot of trusted weight-obtain strategy was high caloric intake. Simply put, starving human being essential calories. Food and also lots of it was the key to rehabilitation. It was as true for those released from the laboratory in Minnesota as it was for those freed from the privations of battle in Europe.

In 1950, Keys, Brozek and also other members of the team publiburned their data in the two-volume set "The Biology of Human Famine," which is still a landnote work-related on humale starvation. The males that served as topics went their separate means, some right into relief job-related, the minisattempt, education and other service-oriented occupations. Brozek, who had actually occurred an interemainder in the background of psychology, would certainly go on to Lehigh University and also ended up being a recognized psychology historian. Keys, that is famous for his job-related on the Mediterranean diet, is likewise remembered for popularizing the body mass index. His contributions and also visibility were substantial enough to earn him a location on the cover of Time magazine in 1961.

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The story of the Minnesota Famine Experiment is many type of stories rolled right into one. It reminds us of the privilege we have; many of us deserve to avoid the unpleasant sensation of hunger by ssuggest getting to for somepoint to eat. Hunger is debilitating and also tragic, all the even more so as soon as it is produced by human affairs. The Minnesota Scarcity Experiment additionally tells the story of service and also sacrifice among those that served in the Civilian Public Service and raised questions around the principles of humale trial and error. Mostly, it reminds us that in psychology studies of mind and also body, scientific research and practice can converge to address genuine problems in the real human being.

David Baker, PhD, is the Margaret Clark Morgan executive director of the Center for the History of Psychology and professor of psychology at the University of Akron. Natacha Keramidas is a graduate assistant at the Center for the History of Psychology and also a PhD student in the collaborative program in counseling psychology. Katharine S. Milar, PhD, is historical editor for "Time Capsule."