Getting Hangry Isn’t Just About Hunger, Researchers Say

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Jun 14, 2018

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Why do you get hangry? For those unfamiliar with the term — but not with the concept — ‘hangry’ is defined as: when being hungry causes to to become angry at people or things around you. It’s hard to know when run-of-the-mill hunger will escalate into hanger.

A new study, published by the American Psychology Association in the journal Emotion, now explains how reaching a state of hangry is in fact, the amalgamation of interplay between a person’s personality, biology and environmental cues.

“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,” says lead author Jennifer MacCormack, a doctoral student of psychology and neurocience at the University of North Carolina. “The purpose of our research is to better understand the psychological mechanisms of hunger-induced emotional states.”

According to MacCormack, the two deciding factors on whether hunger will play a role in negative emotions are context and self-awareness.

Just because a person is hungry, doesn’t mean they’ll lash out and everyone and everything around them, explains 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 feelings as strong emotions about other people or the situation you’re in.”

Involving 400 individuals, the researcher conducting two experiments – one in a lab and one online. In the online experiment, users were shown images that were designed to either induce positive, negative or neutral feelings in the viewer. After which they were shown a Chinese pictograph – an ambiguous image – and asked to rate the pictograph on a seven-point scale ranging from pleasant to unpleasant. The participants were also asked how hungry they felt.

The researchers found that hungrier participants usually rated the Chinese pictograph as negative, but this was only after they were influenced by a negative image in the beginning. If the individual first saw a positive or neutral image, they did not seem to have negative emotions for the pictograph.

“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,” explains MacCormak.

And it’s not just external and physical factors that influence someone to go from just hungry to hangry. An individual’s emotional awareness also plays a part. The more a person realizes their hunger is making them emotional, the less likely they are to become hangry.

In the laboratory experiment researchers involved 200 university students where participants were asked to either eat or fast beforehand. Some students were then asked to complete a writing exercise designed to make them focus on their emotions. All participants were later asked to complete a difficult exercise on a computer they didn’t know, was designed to crash just when the task was about to be completed. A researcher would then enter the room and go on to blame the student for the computer crashing.

Later, participants were given questionnaires regarding their emotions and what they thought of the quality of the experiment. Researchers discovered that hungry individuals reported more negative emotions such as stress and hatefulness and also found the researcher to be more judgmental and harsh as compared to hungry participants who were thinking about their emotions.

As MacCormack noted, the best way to avoid getting hangry is to take a step back, recognize the emotion; this should help contexulaize the negative emotions and curb them.

Now where’s the cake?

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Written By Angelina Shah

Angelina Shah is a staff writer with The Swaddle. In her previous life she was a copywriter in advertising. She has a penchant for reading, singing, travelling and being obsessed with superheroes.

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