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Why Are We Always So ‘Hangry’?

The answer to our hanger lies here..


At some point in the day, whether at work, at a social gathering or when we’re lazing about, we do feel ‘hangry’. But are we really hangry? That subtle pang of hunger, those furrowed brows and that clenching jaw seem to be soothed by just a snack or maybe two. That first cup of coffee in the morning seems to be the answer to just about everything.

According to a study published by PLOS ONE, European researchers have found a significant association between feelings of hunger and emotions such as irritability and anger. The findings from a sample of 64 volunteers aged between 11 and 60 years now support scientists’ claim that feelings of hunger and negative emotions are directly proportional: the greater levels of self-reported hunger, the greater feelings of anger and irritability.

In a world-first, the research conducted by Viren Swami, Samantha Hochstoger, Erik Kargl and Stefan Stieger is the only study on whether the phenomenon of ‘being hangry’ is authentic in real-world settings. Speaking to TrillMag, Mr Swami said that he researched the phenomenon of hanger “because it hadn’t been investigated in humans outside of laboratory settings”, lowering the reliability in real-life settings.

Viren Swami, a professor of social psychology at the Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, England and also the lead author of this study told TODAY via email: “we’re more likely to experience negative emotions when we’re hungry because we’re more likely to interpret contextual cues in a negative way”.


The way to the participants’ stomach

The team conducted this experiment by asking the participants to record their levels of hunger and their emotional state five times a day for 21 days on a scale of 0 to 100 on a smartphone app. A scale ranging from the lowest point to the highest gave options varying from “not hungry at all” to “very hungry” or “not at all” angry and irritated to “very” angry and irritated”.

In addition, the research also investigated eating habits by giving participants a questionnaire at the end of the study period. The questionnaire examined the behaviour of the participants by asking them whether they practised emotionally induced eating, food consumption by seeing others eat and whether they restricted themselves from eating over the previous three weeks.

How often were they hangry?

The results were not surprising. While 53 per cent of the participants said they often focused on a healthy diet, 55 per cent of them said they paid attention to their hunger. In total, 58 per cent of the participants reported they usually had breakfast, 78 per cent said they ate lunch, 84 per cent said they consumed dinner, 48 per cent said they snacked between means and 9 per cent said they got up at night to have something to eat.

The team of researchers concluded that daily variations in hunger, as well as average hunger levels, predicted negative emotions and that the hungrier the people got, the angrier and more irritable they became.

While Susan Carnell, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Johns Hopkins University believes that the study can only show an association, the study concludes that its results could allow people to understand their situation and experience better as well as prove conducive to helping negate negative feelings.

The paper settles that as “MacCormack and Lindquist have suggested, being able to label one’s affective state via emotions (e.g., “I am hangry”) could allow individuals to make sense of their experiences but, may also illuminate the best strategies to minimise those negative feelings (“I should eat”)”. In conversation with TrillMag, Mr Swami said that the study was with adults, “so we cannot draw any conclusions about the effects of hunger in children or adolescents”.

However, Carnell says that the study cannot prove that hunger is causing anger. Although it is not certain, the study reveals a strong association between the former and the latter.

Individuals wary of the study can investigate this by attempting this experiment on themselves. Whether it is through an app on a smartphone or a record in a notebook, this experiment is easily replicable. When asked what advice Mr Swami would give to the people, he revealed to TrillMag that as “the effects of hunger are real, [so] paying attention to one’s bodily cues of hunger can be very important”.

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