Being 'hangry' is real, but it's not simply about sugar
There's a lot more going on when we fly into a rage because we're hungry, scientists have found
Flying into a fit of rage when the hunger pangs are out of control may be an all too familiar notion for many people.
Now researchers from the University of Carolina have studied what makes someone go from simply being hungry to full-on “hangry” – showing anger because of intense hunger.
They claim “hanger” is more than just a simple drop in blood sugar, but may rather be a complicated emotional response linked to biology, personality and environmental cues.
“We all know that hunger can sometimes affect our emotions and perceptions of the world around us, but it’s only recently that the expression of hangry, meaning bad-tempered or irritable because of hunger, was accepted by the Oxford Dictionary.
“The purpose of our research is to better understand the psychological mechanisms of hunger-induced emotional states – in this case, how someone becomes hangry,” said head researcher Jennifer MacCormack.According to the study, published by the American Psychological Association this month, there are two key factors that determine if hunger will contribute to negative emotions or not: context and self-awareness.
“You don’t just become hungry and start lashing out at the universe. We’ve all felt hungry, recognised the unpleasantness as hunger, had a sandwich and felt better. We find that people feeling hangry happens when you feel unpleasantness due to hunger but interpret those feelings as strong emotions about other people or the situation you’re in,” the researchers found.
The researchers carried out experiments on more than 400 people. Depending on the experiment, participants were shown an image designed to induce positive, neutral or negative feelings.
They were then shown an ambiguous image, a Chinese pictograph, and asked to rate the pictograph on a seven-point scale from pleasant to unpleasant. Participants were also asked to report how hungry they felt.
The researchers found that the hungrier the participants were, the more likely they were to rate the Chinese pictographs as negative – but only after first being primed with a negative image. There was no effect for neutral or positive images.
In a second experiment, researchers found that hungry people reported greater unpleasant emotions – like feeling stressed and hateful – when they were not explicitly focused on their own emotions. They also expressed more negative feelings towards others.In contrast, those who spent time thinking about their emotions, even when hungry, did not report these shifts in emotions or social perceptions.
“By simply taking a step back from the present situation and recognising how you’re feeling, you can still be you even when hungry,” the researchers stated.
Johannesburg psychologist Dr Ingrid Artus said people may become “hangry” when their default response to a perceived threat, including the physical discomfort of hunger, was the “fight” response.
“From this perspective, our experience of danger and threat is experienced physically and responded to emotionally and behaviourally.
“If this link between hunger and responses is indeed true, it may be worth considering the impact of poor quality and lack of food in school settings where our children are undernourished.
“Could we be dealing with both anxious and angry children based on poor nutrition?” said Artus.