Feeling 'Hangry'? Scientists Say You're Not Imagining It

New research ties hunger to negative emotional states like irritability, anger, lower pleasure
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 7, 2022 9:10 AM CDT
Feeling 'Hangry'? Scientists Say You're Not Imagining It
Hangry: It's a thing.   (Getty Images/djedzura)

That growing rage you feel the later you put off lunch hour—what has become colloquially known as being "hangry"—likely isn't just in your head. Austrian and Malaysian researchers have found that a lack of sustenance actually does seem to make people cranky, and it all started when the lead scientist on the project, social psychologist Viren Swami of the UK's Anglia Ruskin University, was told he's often hangry himself, reports the Guardian. That revelation spurred his new research in PLOS One, in which he and his colleagues had 64 adults ranging in age from 18 to 60 take part in a three-week experiment, in which they logged on a smartphone app their hunger levels, on a scale from zero to 100, at five different points each day as they went about their usual business.

The participants also noted their irritability and anger levels, as well as those for pleasure and arousal (ie, energy), also on scales of zero to 100. The scientists found that "feeling hungry is associated with greater anger, irritability, and lower levels of pleasure," Swami tells Today. Although they're not sure exactly why there may be a link between hunger and our emotional state—and a Johns Hopkins psychiatry professor not involved with the study stresses that it's just a link, not a definite cause—the researchers note it could have something to do with the effects of having low blood sugar, or perhaps because "we're more likely to interpret contextual cues in a negative way" when we're famished, Swami says.

"The experience of being hangry is real," the researchers assert, though they add that their research doesn't provide for any clear-cut panacea on how to tamp down those negative emotions when hunger strikes. They note, however, that "being able to label an emotion by putting feelings into words ... could help individuals to regulate those emotions," as well as drive remedial behavior. By saying out loud, "I am hangry," for example, that might also lead to the next obvious thought: "I should eat." The link between hunger and emotion has been studied before in a laboratory setting, but this is one of the first scientific looks at that link in a real-world environment. (More discoveries stories.)

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