If you've ever wondered why you get angry whenever you’re hungry, good news! Science might have found the cause of being “hangry” – and it is not as simple as low blood sugar levels. It’s a complex interplay between your feeling of hunger, your awareness of your feelings, and what’s going on around you. As reported in the journal Emotion, the team believe that the causes of being hangry are related to both context and emotional self-awareness.
"You don't just become hungry and start lashing out at the universe," co-author professor Kristen Lindquist, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said in a statement. "We've all felt hungry, recognized the unpleasantness as hunger, had a sandwich and felt better. We find that 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 conducted two experiments. The first was based on 400 volunteers from the United States that were shown images designed to induce positive, neutral, or negative responses. They were then asked to rate a Chinese pictograph on a seven-point scale from pleasant to unpleasant and state how hungry they feel.
The Chinese pictograph was chosen as an ambiguous image that shouldn’t evoke any strong feelings – and yet it did. Hungrier participants were more likely to rate the pictograph negatively, but only if they had previously been shown negative images.
"The idea here is that the negative images provided a context for people to interpret their hunger feelings as meaning the pictographs were unpleasant," lead author Jennifer MacCormack explained. "So there seems to be something special about unpleasant situations that makes people draw on their hunger feelings more than, say, in pleasant or neutral situations."
The second experiment was conducted on 200 university students that had to either eat or fast before the test, with some of them also asked to write about their emotions. Afterward, all the participants had to participate in a scenario that evoked negative emotions. In this case, the computer they were using was set to malfunction during the test and they were blamed for the crash. The hungry students reported feeling more negative emotions, but only those who didn’t write about their emotions previously.
"Our bodies play a powerful role in shaping our moment-to-moment experiences, perceptions, and behaviours – whether we are hungry versus full, tired versus rested or sick versus healthy," said MacCormack. "This means that it's important to take care of our bodies, to pay attention to those bodily signals and not discount them, because they matter not just for our long-term mental health, but also for the day-to-day quality of our psychological experiences, social relationships and work performance."