In 2018 Ramadan was in summer, starting mid June and ending mid July (Islamic calendar is lunar). I was in the middle of moving back to Brooklyn from Princeton, and everything that could get complicated was getting complicated. We got the IRB approval and launched the study on the freshly developed version of Cut (we call it version 7 - I think its somewhere around there).
I had spent a month or so contacting Muslim students associations in different colleges and schools to help us recruit participants. The goal of the study, broadly, was to investigate impact of fasting on cognition and risk behavior. Our alternative to finding no effect was that fasting would affect people in the same manner that scarcity of financial resources or time affect people. That is, people’s cognitive control and performance should become impaired when they are fasting. Of course, hunger itself could influence cognition as well.
We also reasoned that because fasting during Ramadan is religiously motivated, voluntary, and temporary, it could affect people differently. In terms of cognitive control specifically, we thought fasting could lead people to perform no worse or even better than non-fasting people for two reasons. First, engaged self-regulatory capacities could have a spillover effect and lead to better performance in other areas. An ongoing commitment to refrain from eating and fasting could increase person self-awareness and thereby prevent habitual action. Another path could be identity affirmation. Muslims could simply want to show their performance was not affected by their religious practices and thus perform better. This due to the intuitive belief that fasting is the same thing as hunger, and every year some politician or public figure carries the burden of reminding everyone of this novel insight. This year it was the Danish minister of immigration who spewed genius all over herself and the world (here).
Anyway, you can read about the research in the upcoming paper. We used Cut to develop the research instrument. It had, (a) two Go-No-Go tasks measuring cognitive control, (b) a set of Raven’s matrices to test IQ scores, (c) a 25-round BART task measuring risk behavior, and (d) a temporal discounting task to measure present-orientedness. Long these tasks we had a bunch of multiple choice questions and scales. A demo of the task is available here. Cognitive control and performance tasks were purely included to test the scarcity prediction, whereas with BART we intended to replicate prior finding that fasting people are more risk averse (here). We goofed up the measure of temporal discounting and didn’t record all the necessary data.
To give you a sneak peek of our findings, I’ll just say that so far our results suggest that fasting has positive effect of cognitive control… we’ll keep you posted.