What makes someone go from simply being hungry to full-on "hangry"? Researchers have found that it's much more than just a drop in the blood sugar - it's a complex result which involves an interplay of biology, personality, and environmental cues. "The goal of our research is to better understand the psychological mechanisms of hunger-induced emotional states - in this case, how someone becomes hangry".
The Oxford Dictionary only added that word and its definition in January, but we've all experienced this odd emotion our whole lives - and new research suggests it's more complicated than just getting a li'l grouchy when your blood sugar is low.
Basically, there are a couple of extra factors that transform hunger into hanger: the emotional context in which you experience that hunger, and the level of self-awareness you have about those emotions.
"You don't just become hungry and start lashing out at the universe", explained the study's co-author, assistant professor Dr Kristen Lindquist.
"We've all felt hungry, recognised the unpleasantness as hunger, had a sandwich and felt better". 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.
The researchers first conducted two online experiments involving more than 400 individuals from the United States. They presented the subjects with pictures that would invoke either positive, negative or neutral reactions and were asked to say how hungry they were. They were then shown an intentionally ambiguous image-in this case, a Chinese pictograph.
On top of that, Neuropeptide Y, which is also released when your blood sugar plunges, gives you that hungry feeling which is associated with aggression.
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Participants who were hungry reported feeling more emotions like stress and hate after the test, and rated the researchers as harsher or more judgemental. The hungrier the people were, the more likely they were to report that the image was unpleasant if they were shown a negative image before it.
To better understand what causes it, MacCormack and her colleagues did a series of experiments and found that being in a stressful situation-and not being in tune with your emotions-may both make a person cross the line from hunger into hanger.
It's not just environmental cues that can affect whether someone goes from hungry to hangry, according to MacCormack. People who are more aware that their hunger is manifesting as an emotion are less likely to become hangry.
In a second experiment, more than 200 students were invited into a laboratory to complete a number of tasks: one of these was a tedious exercise on a computer sneakily created to crash right before they finished it, a fault blamed on the student by a researcher. Students were asked to complete a tedious exercise on a computer that, unbeknownst to them, was programmed to crash just before it could be completed. One of the researchers then came into the room and blamed the student for the computer crash. Participants then filled out questionnaires.
In light of their study, the researchers beleive that the key distinction between hungry people and hangry ones lies in the context each finds themselves in, and how self-aware they are. Participants who spent time thinking about their emotions, even when hungry, did not report these shifts in emotions or social perceptions.
The research emphasizes the mind-body connection in relation to hunger, according to MacCormack.