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. Researchers found that physiology and environment are factors that trigger hanger in a person.
In a study published by the American Psychological Association, researchers at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill suggested that bad temper or irritability due to hunger can be attributed to psychological stimuli like context and self-awareness.
"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 hangry, meaning bad-tempered or irritable because of hunger, was accepted by the Oxford Dictionary," said Jennifer MacCormack, the study's lead author and a PhD student at the UNC Chapel Hill Department of Psychology and Neuroscience.
MacCormack said the purpose of their study is to better understand the psychology behind why a person gets angry when he is hungry. Details of their research are available in the June 11 edition of Emotion.
Pleasant Versus Unpleasant Experiments
Coauthor Dr. Kristen Lindquist hypothesized that when a person experienced a hunger-induced negative emotion, this strong feeling is then perceived toward peers or certain situations.
To prove this, the researchers designed and executed two online experiments. The first one involved 400 participants from the United States. The authors showed them an image that was intended to initiate negative, neutral, or positive feelings.
Afterward, the researchers showed them an ambiguous image that they had to rate as being pleasant or unpleasant. The experiment concluded by asking the participants about their hunger level after the exercises.
In the second experiment, 200 college students chose to either fast or eat after they accomplished a different exercise that was meant to elicit emotions. Next, the researchers asked the students to complete a difficult exercise using a computer that will eventually crash. As the computer crashed, one of the researchers approached and blamed the students for its malfunction.
"Our findings suggest that a negative context may be key for transforming hunger into feeling negative, high arousal emotions or colloquially, 'hanger,'" the authors concluded.
Significance Of The Study
Understanding what triggers hanger is crucial on how a person can process his emotions when hungry. MacCormack said the body responds differently when a person is hungry or full, tired or rested, or sick or healthy.
Sophie Medlin, a lecturer of nutrition at King's College London, said MacCormack's study presents a great deal of information to individuals who are on a restricted diet.