New US research has revealed two important factors that could cause us to feel “hangry,” an emotional state which is a combination of both hunger and anger.
Carried out by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the study set out to investigate what makes someone turn from feeling just hungry to feeling both hungry and bad-tempered, now more commonly known as ‘hangry.’
“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 lead author Jennifer MacCormack.
“The purpose of our research is to better understand the psychological mechanisms of hunger-induced emotional states”
The team first looked at more than 400 participants and asked them to take part in online experiments in which they were shown an image designed to either induce either positive, neutral or negative feelings.
Participants were then shown an ambiguous image, a Chinese pictograph, and asked to rate the pictograph on a seven-point scale from pleasant to unpleasant.
The results showed that when participants were hungry, they were more likely to rate the ambiguous Chinese pictographs as negative, but only after first being shown a negative image.
However, seeing a neutral or positive image first had no effect, suggesting that context is an important factor in determining whether hunger will contribute to negative emotions and lead individuals to feeling hangry.
“The idea here is that the negative images provided a context for people to interpret their hunger feelings as meaning the pictographs were unpleasant,” explained MacCormack. “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 the second part of the research the team asked more than 200 university students to either fast or eat before completing a writing exercise. The scenario was set up so participants experienced a computer crash just before they had completed the task. They were then blamed for the crash by a researcher.
This time the team found that hungry individuals reported greater negative emotions, such as feeling stressed and hateful, and thought that the researcher was more judgmental or harsh when they were not focused on their own emotions.
However, those who spent time thinking about their emotions, even when they were hungry, did not report the same changes in emotions or social perceptions.
“You don’t just become hungry and start lashing out at the universe,” added co-author Kristen Lindquist. “We’ve all felt hungry, recognised 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.”