Hunger really does make people feel ‘hangry’

CAMBRIDGE, United Kingdom — Being “hangry” is a real emotional state, a new study confirms. Researchers in Europe have discovered that feeling hungry really does lead to more anger and irritability.

Hangry, or the blending of the words hungry and angry, has become a popular expression in everyday language in recent years. However, researchers note that this is the first study to examine how the phenomenon affects a person’s day-to-day emotional state.

Not only does hunger increase levels of anger and irritability, study authors from Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) and the Karl Landsteiner University of Health Sciences say it also lowers a person’s level of pleasure.

Researchers gathered 64 adults in central Europe, who recorded their levels of hunger throughout the day over a three-week period. They also kept track of their emotional well-being during the experiment as well.

Specifically, the participants recorded their level of hunger and their feelings at the time on a specialized smartphone app five times a day. Study authors note the app allowed scientists to gather this data while people went about their days under real-world conditions.

Results reveal that when people feel hungry, they experience stronger feelings of anger and irritability and less pleasure. The team says the connection was still strong even after accounting for individual factors, including age, sex, body mass index, each person’s diet, and their unique personality traits.

Hunger plays a major role in our emotional state

Overall, researchers say hunger accounted for roughly a third of the variance in a person’s emotional well-being throughout the day. Hunger accounted for 37 percent of the variance in irritability, 34 percent of the variance in anger, and 38 percent of the drop in pleasure when someone is craving a snack.

Study authors add that feeling hungry one day can even leave a residual trace which impacts our emotions for weeks after.

“Many of us are aware that being hungry can influence our emotions, but surprisingly little scientific research has focused on being ‘hangry,’” says lead author Viren Swami, Professor of Social Psychology at ARU, in a media release.

“Ours is the first study to examine being ‘hangry’ outside of a lab. By following people in their day-to-day lives, we found that hunger was related to levels of anger, irritability, and pleasure,” Swami continues.

“Although our study doesn’t present ways to mitigate negative hunger-induced emotions, research suggests that being able to label an emotion can help people to regulate it, such as by recognizing that we feel angry simply because we are hungry. Therefore, greater awareness of being ‘hangry’ could reduce the likelihood that hunger results in negative emotions and behaviors in individuals.”

“Although this approach requires a great deal of effort – not only for participants but also for researchers in designing such studies – the results provide a high degree of generalizability compared to laboratory studies, giving us a much more complete picture of how people experience the emotional outcomes of hunger in their everyday lives,” adds Stefan Stieger, Professor of Psychology at Karl Landsteiner University of Health Sciences.

The study is published in the journal PLoS ONE.

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