‘Hanger’ pangs are real: Why we feel angry when hungry

Do you feel angry when hungry? A study reported this is due to a complex interplay of personality and environmental factors

Everyone knows what it feels to be hungry.

"Our bodies play a powerful role in shaping our moment-to-moment experiences, perceptions and behaviors - whether we are hungry versus full, exhausted versus rested or sick versus healthy", lead author Jennifer MacCormack, MA, a doctoral student in the department of psychology and neuroscience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. said in a statement.

We've all felt it - hangry.

To prove this, the researchers designed and executed two online experiments. In the first study, conducted online, the participants were asked to participate either in hungry or full state. In the first trial, they recruited 400 volunteers from the United States and showed them images created to generate positive, neutral, or negative responses.

Afterward, the researchers showed them an ambiguous image that they had to rate as being pleasant or unpleasant.

"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", she added. One group was asked to not eat anything for five hours while the other was asked to come in after a full meal.

In the second experiment, participants either fasted or ate before having to do a tedious task, only to have the computer they were working on crash right before they completed it-which the researchers blamed them for. In an effort to see if the fasting participants would get hangry, the researchers deliberately crashed the participants' computers with the "blue screen of death" just as they were about to complete the test. All the students were then asked to write an essay that was either emotional or not related to feelings at all.

After this, they answered a questionnaire which showed that hungry participants thought that the researcher conducting the experiment was more judgmental or harsh.

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They then tested this theory again in-person on a group of 200 UNC students.

It's not just environmental cues that can affect whether someone goes from hungry to hangry, according to MacCormack.

There is a more profound explanation why some people get hangry - the state of being irritable when hungry - than a mere decrease of blood sugar levels.

This showed researchers that not being aware of emotions can cause us to be hangry - not just hunger.

And if you are feeling a little grumpy, take a step back and think about your emotions for a bit - it might help you from turning into a hangry mess.

"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.

"You don't just become hungry and start lashing out at the universe", said the study's co-author, assistant professor Dr. Kristen Lindquist. "We've all felt hungry, recognised the unpleasantness as hunger, had a sandwich and felt better". The study asserts that feeling hangry happens not just when you are super hungry, but when those feelings turn up as strong emotions about the people or situation you are now in. "What happens in our bodies, including our physical health, has downstream consequences for our mental health and wellbeing!" said MacCormick. It's a complex interplay between your feeling of hunger, your awareness of your feelings, and what's going on around you.

Hyeyeun Jeon is from South Korea and a recent graduate from Carnegie Mellon University with a double major in Professional Writing and International Relations.

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