Have you ever felt really cranky while you were hungry? Maybe you forgot to eat lunch at work and glared at all your coworkers, or perhaps you couldn’t find your favorite snack at home and snapped at your husband. If any of that sounds familiar, you’re definitely not alone. While some folks might blame a simple drop in blood sugar for those bad moods, recent research reveals that feeling crabby while you’re hungry is actually a lot more complex than that. But let’s get this out of the way first: Your crankiness is completely understandable.
A June 2018 study published in the scientific journal Emotion found that a combination of hunger and anger might be a complicated emotional response brought on by biology, personality, and environmental cues. The researchers analyzed more than 400 people, showing participants three different images designed to cause positive, neutral, or negative feelings. They asked the people to both rate the photos and report how hungry they were. As it turned out, the hungrier participants rated the neutral photo more negatively — but only after they saw a negative one first.
“The idea here is that the negative images provided a context for people to interpret their hunger feelings as meaning the pictographs were unpleasant,” said lead author Jennifer MacCormack, MA, a doctoral student of psychology and neurocience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in a press release. “So there seems to be something special about unpleasant situations that makes people draw on their hunger feelings more than, say, in pleasant or neutral situations.”
Considering that many of us are more likely to experience slight frustration or annoyance when something negative happens, it’s not super shocking that those emotions could possibly be further aggravated by hunger. MacCormack added that emotional awareness can also play a factor in whether someone gets mad while being hungry. In other words, if someone thinks about his or her emotions while feeling hungry, he or she is less likely to feel anger.
“You don’t just become hungry and start lashing out at the universe,” said study co-author Kristen Lindquist, PhD. “We’ve all felt hungry, recognized the unpleasantness as hunger, had a sandwich, and felt better. We find that feeling hangry happens when you feel unpleasantness due to hunger but interpret those feelings as strong emotions about other people or the situation you’re in.”
As annoying as being hungry and angry at the same time can be, it’s pretty comforting to know that there’s a reasonable explanation behind our feelings. And it’s the perfect excuse to always have a snack on hand — just in case!