July 7, 2022 — The notion that people get ‘hangry’ – irritable and short-tempered when they’re hungry – is such an established part of modern folklore that the word has even been added to dictionaries.
Although studies in the past have shown that low blood sugar levels make people more impulsive, angry and aggressive, there has been little solid evidence that this translates to real life settings.
Now new research has confirmed that the phenomenon does really exist in everyday life. The study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, is the first to investigate how hunger affects people’s emotions on a day-to-day level.
“Many of us are aware that being hungry can influence our emotions, but surprisingly little scientific research has focused on being ‘hangry,'” lead author Viren Swami, professor of social psychology at Anglia Ruskin University, says.
He and co-authors from Karl Landsteiner University of Health Sciences in Austria recruited 64 people from Central Europe who completed a 21-day program in which they were prompted to report their feelings on a smartphone app five times a day. At each prompt, they reported their levels of hunger, anger, irritability, pleasure, and arousal.
Anger was rated on a 5-point scale but the team explained that the effects of hunger are unlikely to be just anger, so they also asked about irritability and, to obtain a more holistic view of emotions, also about pleasure and arousal,
Researchers also asked about eating behaviors over the previous three weeks, including frequency of main meals, snacking behavior, healthy eating, feeling hungry, and about dietary behaviors.
The authors say the use of the app allowed data collection to take place in subjects’ everyday environments, such as their workplace and at home.
“These results provide evidence that everyday levels of hunger are associated with negative emotionality and supports the notion of being ‘hangry’.”
“The effects were substantial,” the team said, “even after taking into account demographic factors” such as age and sex, body mass index, dietary behavior, and individual personality traits.
The authors said their findings “suggest that the experience of being hangry is real, insofar as hunger was associated with greater anger and irritability, and lower pleasure, in our sample over a period of three weeks. “
Although the majority of participants (55%) said they paid attention to hunger pangs, only 23% said that they knew when they were full and then stopped eating, whereas 63% said they could tell when they were full but sometimes continued to eat. Few (4.7%) people said they could not tell when they were full.