Feeling Hangry? Science Confirms Being Hangry is Real

posted: 06/19/18
by: Amanda Mushro
Hungry young man is screaming for his dinner


If you aren't familiar with the term "hangry" it's when someone switches from feeling hungry to a cranky, irritable, and angry person who needs something to eat immediately. Once they have a bite to eat, they revert back to their normal selves. My six-year-old daughter suffers from this affliction and when she goes too long between meals, she morphs from a happy child to a hangry little lady. While I just assumed this was part of her "charm" and the reason I always carry snacks in my purse, researchers are now saying the hangry transformation is real and there is more going on in our brain when the hangry feelings strike.

According to a new study from researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, being hangry isn't just dropping blood sugar levels and often our judgement changes based on how hungry we feel.

For the study, researchers administered two experiments with more than 400 participants. The first was given online where each person was shown images meant to induce positive, negative, or neutral feelings. Next, they viewed an ambiguous photo of a Chinese pictograph. During all of these, participants also had to report how hungry they felt.

What they found was participants who said they were hungry were more likely to give the images a poor rating. However, this was only true when first shown a negative image. So hunger didn't make people rank neutral or positive images as unpleasant but made unpleasant things seem more unpleasant. "If there is something actually unpleasant happening around you, the hunger makes that thing even worse, and almost makes you overreact," she lead author Jennifer MacCormack.

Next for the lab study, 200 university-age participants were split into two groups. One group fasted but the other group was allowed to eat before the experiment. Half of the participants were told to write about their emotions, and the other half journaled about a boring day. After, researchers put the participants in front of computers to complete a questionnaire but the computers were rigged to crash.

No surprise--the hungry people reported feeling angry, stressed, and frustrated but not those who journaled first. Researchers noted that being in tune with their feeling and emotions helped to ward off those hangry feelings.

When we feel hungry, it's easy to only focus on the external and not what's happening to our bodies. "In that moment, your attention is externalized, and you aren't recognizing how hunger is perhaps biasing your perceptions in the moment," MacCormack says. That's when the hangry hits.

So what can we learn from this study--listen to our bodies and always carry snacks in your purse.