Psychologists have confirmed the link between hunger and negative emotions. An experiment involving 64 volunteers who lived normal lives and filled out a questionnaire with questions about well-being five times a day showed that hungry people become irritable and angry, and their level of pleasure decreases. Previously, similar results were obtained in the laboratory. The results of the study are published in an article for the journal PLoS ONE.
Many people claim that they become irritable and aggressive when they feel hungry. In English, the word “hangry” even appeared to describe this state, which comes from the words “hungry” (hungry) and “angry” (evil). Although the connection between hunger and negative emotions may seem obvious, it remains largely unexplored. For example, attempts to link increased levels of aggression to low blood glucose concentrations have yielded mixed results. On the other hand, in a series of laboratory tests, it was shown that hungry people are more likely to perceive ambiguous images as negative and negatively evaluate the experimenters.
A team of psychologists led by Stefan Stieger from the Karl Landsteiner Medical University decided to study the connection between hunger and aggression in everyday conditions, that is, outside the laboratory. For this, the researchers selected 121 volunteers from Austria, Germany and Switzerland. Their average age was 29.9 years.
During the 21 days of the experiment, the subjects led a normal life, but five times a day they filled out a questionnaire in a mobile application with questions about their well-being. The authors asked participants to rate, on a scale of one hundred, their emotional state, as well as the level of hunger, irritation, anger, and arousal at the moment. In addition, it was necessary to report how much time had passed since the last meal. A total of 64 participants reached the end of the study. After that, they were asked to answer additional questions about eating behavior and tendencies to aggression.
After analyzing the results, Stieger and colleagues found that hunger does have a negative effect on the emotional state. Hungry subjects experienced stronger irritation and anger, and their sensation of pleasure was weaker. This pattern persisted even after the authors adjusted for participants’ age, sex, and body mass index, as well as their eating behavior and tendency to be aggressive. Moreover, it turned out that the level of negative emotions can be determined not only by daily fluctuations in hunger, but also by its average level for three weeks, which additionally indicates the reliability of the discovered relationship.
The researchers estimated that hunger was responsible for 56 percent of the differences in irritability among the subjects, as well as 48 percent of the differences in anger and 44 percent of the differences in pleasure. Interestingly, the desire to eat not only affects irritation, anger, and pleasure separately, but also affects a composite measure that takes into account all three of these emotions. At the same time, no relationship between hunger and the level of arousal could be found, although the authors expected that hungry people would be more aroused.
Stieger and his co-authors doubt that hunger automatically causes irritation and anger due to a drop in blood glucose levels. It is more likely that at first he simply reduces the level of pleasure. And if a person in this state is faced with an ambiguous situation (such as a conversation with a relative, hot weather, or a notification to complete a questionnaire), he is more likely to perceive it negatively and experience irritation or anger. So it doesn’t take long for a hungry person to get angry.
Earlier, we talked about how a young Canadian who was admitted to the hospital with a stroke completely lost her hunger for a year. The experts who examined her believe that the cause of such an unusual symptom is damage to the left insular lobe. This case highlights the important role of the insula in taste perception and appetite control.