Mind & Body

Scientists Determined When Hanger Is Most Likely to Strike

When you're hungry, you can't think straight. It's also harder to control your impulses — anything might set you off. Welcome to that all-too-familiar "hangry" feeling. Sometimes you can't help being hungry, but can you avoid feeling hangry? New research says yes.

Hangry Eyes

For a study published last month in the journal Emotion, Jennifer K. MacCormack and Kristen A. Lindquist from University of North Carolina Chapel Hill sought to find out just what triggered hangry feelings. "We propose that hunger alone is insufficient for feeling hangry," they wrote. The psychologists thought that there must be another element at play.

The psychologists first organized two online surveys. The participants — some who were hungry, some who were full — looked at images designed to evoke positive, negative, or neutral emotions. Then, they saw an image they couldn't identify, like a Chinese character. The participant's final task would be to decide whether or not they thought the pictograph meant something enjoyable or unpleasant. Sounds simple right?

As you might expect, hungry people who saw negative images throughout the survey thought the pictograph at the end was unpleasant. But surprisingly, hungry people who saw positive or neutral pictures rated the final image no differently than the non-hungry people. This could mean that hanger is more likely to affect negative situations you're confronted with and doesn't seem to matter when the situation is positive or neutral.

It's Not You, It's My Stomach

To get to the bottom of why hunger might affect emotion in a distressing situation, the researchers conducted a final test. They asked two random groups of college students to come into their lab after either fasting for five hours or having eaten a full meal. Once they got there, the students were told to write a story that was meant to get them to either think about their emotions or not think about how they were feeling at all. After they finished, they had to participate in a difficult computer task. Unbeknownst to the students, the computer was programmed to crash. The researcher blamed them for it and told them to redo the whole task. Brutal.

The results of this experiment were interesting, to say the least. The researchers found that students who didn't write about their emotions reported being more stressed and angry, and overall showed more signs of being hangry than those who were more aware of their emotions. This suggests you're most likely to feel hangry not only in negative situations, but when you're not focused on how you're feeling. In that condition, you may not even realize your bad mood is caused by hunger. Instead, you blame it on the world around you.

Since hunger can shape your feelings and behaviors, it's best to try keep it at bay — especially for the sake of those around you. Here are a few tips to avoid that hangry feeling:

  1. Pay more attention to your hunger: This one may sound obvious, but it's easier said than done. Everyone has certain body cues that can signal hunger. Does your stomach gurgle? Your head hurt? Try to guide your focus internally to catch those physical symptoms.
  2. Plan ahead: If you know you're going to have a long day of strenuous physical activity, make sure to eat a protein-packed breakfast and bring along a nutritious snack.
  3. Set reminders: If you're constantly forgetting to eat, it might be helpful to use a watch or smartphone app to remind you it's mealtime. By having reminders, you can fulfill your needs before your stomach ever starts to grumble.

Directing more attention to your body's needs and emotions is important for reducing unnecessary anger and stress in your life. You can tune into your own mind and body more thoroughly with Michael Garron's brilliant "Emotional Intelligence: The Complete Guide to Improving Thoughts, Behavior, Relationships and Social Skills (The EQ Book)" We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

The Science Of Hangry

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Written by Annie Hartman July 6, 2018

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