Published: Wed, June 13, 2018
Health Care | By Cedric Leonard

Why you get hangry: Studies show an empty stomach can affect emotions

Why you get hangry: Studies show an empty stomach can affect emotions

The team ran an online experiment to how emotional cues can prime you to become hangry, exposing hundreds of participants to images created to induce either positive, negative or neutral feelings.

"Despite the colloquial term 'hanger, ' we found that this effect was not specific to anger", says study co-author Kristen Lindquist, an assistant professor in Psychology & Neuroscience at UNC. "We've all felt hungry, recognized the unpleasantness as hunger, had a sandwich and felt better".

Scientific researchers have now studied how hunger manifests as an emotion and found that we interpret ambiguous images and scenarios as negatives when we're hungry. This suggests that in a negative situation, people may be more likely to experience their hunger-related feelings-aka hanger-than if they are in a pleasant or neutral situation, the researchers say. "By better understanding the factors that lead us to become hangry, we can give people the tools to recognize when hunger is impacting their feelings and behaviors". So in other words, when something negative happens first, people are more likely to rate something neutral as negative, particularly if they are hungry.

Researchers performed two online experiments with more than 400 people in the U.S. Participants were randomly shown an image created to induce either positive, neutral, or negative feelings. The hungry subjects who had been primed with neutral or positive images didn't show negative responses. This suggests that environmental cues are a key to becoming hangry.

"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", say MacCormack.

In another study, the researchers asked some 200 college students to either eat or fast before they came into the lab. 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. Researchers performed tasks to increase participants' stress level, including programming computers to crash before the exercise was finished. Hungry individuals were more likely to report negatively about the event, and they were also more likely to believe that the researcher was more judgemental or harsh.

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Participants were then asked to fill out questionnaires on their emotions and their perception of the quality of the experiment. Participants who spent time thinking about their emotions, even when hungry, did not report these shifts in emotions or social perceptions. "The goal of our research is to better understand the psychological mechanisms of hunger-induced emotional states - in this case, how someone becomes hangry".

"Our data hint that by simply taking a step back from the present situation and recognising how you're feeling, you can still be you even when hungry", she said.

Experiencing hunger is a reminder that our bodies are highly-evolved with warning signals that tell us when it is time or past time to do things crucial to our survival, like eating, drinking sleeping or seeking shade.

What happens inside your body when you get hungry-angry?

Psychologists from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill set out to uncover the causes of hangriness, publishing the results of their study in the American Psychological Association journal Emotion. Emotion, published online June 11, 2018.

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