Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recently conducted a study, published by the American Psychological Association, to explore why people get hangry, which is defined as feeling irritable or bad-tempered due to hunger.
“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 ... was accepted by the Oxford Dictionary,” lead author Jennifer MacCormack said. “The purpose of our research is to better understand the psychological mechanisms of hunger-induced emotional states — in this case, how someone becomes hangry.”
For the assessment, the analysts administered two online experiments that examined more than 400 individuals. The subjects were shown images that either induced positive, negative or neutral feelings. They then viewed an ambiguous photo, a Chinese pictograph, and were asked to rate it on a seven-point scale from please to unpleasant. They were also required to report how hungry they felt.
After analyzing the results, they found that hungrier participants were more likely to feel negatively towards the Chinese pictograph after first viewing a negative image.
“The idea here is that the negative images provided a context for people to interpret their hunger feelings as meaning the pictographs were unpleasant,” MacCormack explained. “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.”
In another lab experiment, 200 university students were asked to either fast or eat beforehand. They then completed a writing activity that focused on their emotions and later participated in an exercise on the computer designed to crash before they could fulfill the assignment.
The scientists discovered that the hungry participants who were not focused on their emotions felt more negatively about the experiment than those who were focused on their emotions.
“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.
The researchers believe they could yield similar results if they explore other emotions, such as fatigue or inflammation. However, further investigation is needed.
“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.”