Scientists Have Found Out Why We Sometimes Get Hangry

Desiree Burns
June 14, 2018

There have been earlier studies that have shown that hunger can in fact affect the mood mainly because hunger is responsible for affecting hormones as well as the autonomic nervous system - both of which could have effects on mood. People's level of emotional awareness also matters.

What makes someone go from simply being hungry to full-on "hangry"?

For the new study - published in the journal Emotion - the researchers put 200 university students into two groups.

Study's lead author and social psychology student from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Jennifer MacCormack said that, "The idea here is that the negative images provided a context for people to interpret their hunger feelings as meaning the pictographs were unpleasant". Recognizing that you're hungry and remembering that you'll feel much better when you get something into that belly.

Researchers conducted two experiments involving over 400 people - who were asked to state how hungry they were - showing them random images designed to create positive, neutral or negative feelings. In the first, 400 people were shown images created to incite a positive, negative, or neutral response; then they rated a separate, ambiguous image on a scale from pleasant to unpleasant.

The Chinese pictograph was chosen as an ambiguous image that shouldn't evoke any strong feelings - and yet it did. Their reactions after viewing a positive or neutral image however did not end up in a guess that the ambiguous picture was something unpleasant - same as not-hungry participants.

This means that the hunger becomes relevant only when there are negative situations around because hunger also causes negative and unpleasant feelings. Next, the researchers asked the students to complete a hard exercise using a computer that will eventually crash.

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In the second experiment, participants either fasted or ate before having to do a tedious task, only to have the computer they were working on crash right before they completed it-which the researchers blamed them for.

"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", she said. After some of the students were asked to complete a writing exercise created to direct their focus on their emotions, all participants were asked to participate in a scenario created to evoke negative emotions.

Participants were then asked to fill out questionnaires on their emotions and their perception of the quality of the experiment.

In a third experiment, the researchers undertook a particularly gruelling laboratory experiment with almost 250 university students. Hungrier participants were more likely to rate the pictograph negatively, but only if they had previously been shown negative images.

Hungry students who did not participate in the writing exercise on their emotions reported greater negative emotions like feeling stressed and hateful.

"Our bodies play a powerful role in shaping our moment-to-moment experiences, perceptions and behaviors", added MacCormack.

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