Hunger can lead to anger, but it's more complicated than a drop in blood sugar, study says

June 11, 2018, American Psychological Association
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

What makes someone go from simply being hungry to full-on "hangry"? More than just a simple drop in blood sugar, this combination of hunger and anger may be a complicated emotional response involving an interplay of biology, personality and environmental cues, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

"We all know that can sometimes affect our emotions and perceptions of the world around us, but it's only recently that the expression hangry, meaning bad-tempered or irritable because of hunger, was accepted by the Oxford Dictionary," said lead author Jennifer MacCormack, MA, a doctoral student in the department of psychology and neurocience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "The purpose of our research is to better understand the psychological mechanisms of hunger-induced states—in this case, how someone becomes hangry."

The research was published in the journal Emotion.

When someone is hungry, there are two key things that determine if that hunger will contribute to negative emotions or not, according to MacCormack: Context and self-awareness.

"You don't just become hungry and start lashing out at the universe," said assistant professor Kristen Lindquist, Ph.D., the study's co-author. "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 as strong emotions about other people or the situation you're in."

The researchers first conducted two online experiments involving more than 400 individuals from the United States. Depending on the experiment, 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 participants were more likely to rate ambiguous Chinese pictographs as negative, but only after first being primed with a negative image. There was no effect for neutral or positive 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," said MacCormack. "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."

It's not just that can affect whether someone goes from hungry to hangry, according to MacCormack. People's level of emotional awareness also matters. People who are more aware that their hunger is manifesting as an emotion are less likely to become hangry.

In a laboratory experiment involving more than 200 university students, the researchers asked the participants either to fast or eat beforehand. After some of the students were asked to complete a writing exercise designed to direct their focus on their emotions, all participants were asked to participate in a scenario designed to evoke . Students were asked to complete a tedious exercise on a computer that, unbeknownst to them, was programmed to crash just before it could be completed. One of the researchers then came into the room and blamed the student for the computer crash.

Participants were then asked to fill out questionnaires on their emotions and their perception of the quality of the experiment. The researchers found that hungry individuals reported greater unpleasant emotions like feeling stressed and hateful when they were not explicitly focused on their own emotions. These individuals also thought that the researcher conducting the experiment was more judgmental or harsh. Participants who spent time thinking about their emotions, even when hungry, did not report these shifts in emotions or social perceptions.

"A well-known commercial once said, 'You're not you when you're hungry,' but our data hint that by simply taking a step back from the present situation and recognizing how you're feeling, you can still be you even when hungry," MacCormack said.

This research emphasizes the mind-body connection, according to MacCormack. "Our bodies play a powerful role in shaping our moment-to-moment experiences, perceptions and behaviors—whether we are hungry versus full, tired versus rested or sick versus healthy," she said. "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."

Although this study focused on hunger, MacCormack believes these results may extend to other bodily states that induce negative emotion, such as fatigue or inflammation, but that further research needs to be done to confirm this.

Explore further: Secret to happiness may include more unpleasant emotions

More information: "Feeling Hangry? When Hunger is Conceptualized as Emotion," by Jennifer MacCormack, MA, and Kristen Lindquist, PhD, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Emotion, published online June 11, 2018.

Related Stories

Secret to happiness may include more unpleasant emotions

August 14, 2017
People may be happier when they feel the emotions they desire, even if those emotions are unpleasant, such as anger or hatred, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

Emotional suppression reduces memory of negative events

March 13, 2018
By peering at the brains of study subjects prompted to suppress negative emotions, scientists have gained new insights into how emotional regulation influences negative feelings and memories. The researchers hope the findings ...

The emotions we feel may shape what we see

April 11, 2018
Our emotional state in a given moment may influence what we see, according to findings published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. In two experiments, researchers found that ...

5 no-calorie hunger busters

September 14, 2017
(HealthDay)—Psychology can play a big role in how much we eat.

Researchers find hunger pangs drive people to acquire more non-food objects

February 17, 2015
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers with members from institutions in the U.S. and Hong Kong has found that when people feel hunger, in addition to attempting to quash their pangs by eating, they will also acquire more ...

Recommended for you

Gut microbes may contribute to depression and anxiety in obesity

June 18, 2018
Like everyone, people with type 2 diabetes and obesity suffer from depression and anxiety, but even more so. Researchers at Joslin Diabetes Center now have demonstrated a surprising potential contributor to these negative ...

Childhood sibling dynamics may predict differences in college education

June 18, 2018
The effects of sibling relationships may go beyond childhood bickering and bonding, according to Penn State researchers who found that these relationships may predict similarities and differences in siblings' education later ...

Success is not just how you play your cards, but how you play your opponents

June 15, 2018
In high-stakes environments, success is not just about playing your cards right, but also playing your opponents right.

Poker has a 'tell' about strategic thinkers

June 15, 2018
In competitive environments, success is not just about playing your cards right, but also playing your opponents right.

Risk of burnout can be estimated by analysing saliva samples

June 15, 2018
According to calculations from the World Health Organisation, depression occupies first place in the global "disease burden" and, by 2030, experts estimate that there will be three mental illnesses in the Top 5: depression, ...

Religious affiliation linked to nearly 4-year longevity boost

June 14, 2018
A new nationwide study of obituaries has found that people with religious affiliations lived nearly four years longer than those with no ties to religion.

4 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

KBK
1 / 5 (2) Jun 11, 2018
Get rid of gmo and grains then, as they both irritate and inflame the human body. Big time.

As well as all the plastics and effluents allowed to circulate around and in our lives.

And no 5g, say no to 5g, say no to 5g, say no to 5g, say no to 5g.........

RF levels of such nature are toxic, not just to us but to the fauna, as in bees, for one...

More research on that is coming out all the time, but over a trillion dollars in telecommunications might from psychopathic corporations is 100% allied against making truth known in the area of RF contamination.

Just like global warming, the oil effluents, the solar and renewable initiative, pollution issues and smoking/cancer issues were all manipulated by the involved corporations. Hundreds of billions per year of money was involved.

In the case of modern communications, trillions of dollars are involved. 5g, wi-fi, etc is a real problem. RF pollution is a SERIOUS problem.
Jaec45
not rated yet Jun 11, 2018
FYI: The human brain is literally swimming/immersed in Sugar and Salt (Glucose and Sodium). Therefore, any variation in the amount of Glucose and Sodium in the CSF (Cerebrospinal fluid) can adversely affect the nerve impulses in our brain, ergo our thinking process, moods, behavior, etc.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Jun 11, 2018
FYI: The human brain is literally swimming/immersed in Sugar and Salt (Glucose and Sodium). Therefore, any variation in the amount of Glucose and Sodium in the CSF (Cerebrospinal fluid) can adversely affect the nerve impulses in our brain, ergo our thinking process, moods, behavior, etc.
You mean animal brain dont you? What is the animal analog for anger? Motivation. It focuses the senses, engages concentration.
https://me.me/i/t...-3041588
Anonym786622
not rated yet Jun 12, 2018
I was diagnosed with COPD 5 years ago and was taking Spiriva and Advair plus nose sprays to slow down progression. My symptoms have always been shortness of breath, and dizziness. I am a 54 year old female. the Spiriva wasn't really working and I could not tolerate them for long due to severe side effects, so this year our family doctor started me on Natural Herbal Gardens COPD Herbal mixture, We ordered their COPD herbal treatment after reading alot of positive reviews, i am happy to report with the help of Natural Herbal Garden natural herbs I have been able to reverse my symptoms using herbs, my symptoms totally declined over a 9 weeks use of the Natural Herbal Gardens COPD natural herbal formula. My COPD is totally reversed! Their official web page is www . naturalherbalgardens . com After the herbal treatment I also finally was able to give up smoking after 20 years. I 'm thankful to nature

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.