We all have that one friend (or perhaps it’s you) who goes from “I’m hungry” to “If you don’t feed me immediately we’re going to see who wins in a real fistfight” in a matter of about 10 seconds. Society has termed these angry hungry people as “hangry,” but until recently, science hasn’t had much to say on the subject.
Now, doctoral candidate Jennifer MacCormack out of UNC-Chapel Hill is interested in understanding why some people flip that switch. She and a team of researchers found that there are typically two key factors: context and self-awareness.
To come to their conclusions, the group conducted two different experiments. In the first, MacCormack had two groups of undergrads – one that had fasted for 5 hours and one that ate right before beginning. They came into the lab to be annoyed by complicated computer exercises that ended with the blue screen of death.
“Bless their heart,” MacCormack told NPR. “They didn’t know this was a study about feeling hangry.”
In the other study, she had people look at different images that fell into positive, negative, and neutral categories.
When “hungry or sated people looked at positive or neutral pictures, they didn’t feel any strong emotional shift in any direction,” she said, while “hungry people looking at negative images reacted much more strongly than those who had eaten recently.”
The findings, published in the journal Emotion, suggest that hunger alone doesn’t make someone hangry. University of California-Riverside psychologist Elizabeth Davis explains:
“It’s context. Hungry people need to be in some negative situation or subject to negative stimuli before they start feeling hangry.”
Now, someone being hungry for too long can push them into that space on its own, but for people who are in touch with their emotions can realize that nothing is actually wrong – they just need to eat.