Science might have found the cause of being "hangry" - and it is not as simple as low blood sugar levels. A study reported this is due to a complex interplay of personality and environmental factors. (Ummm, where's Stephanie Tanner when you need a spirited "how rude!"?) Given that the hungry participants were more emotional after the computer crashed, compounded by the other study's results, the researchers concluded that being hungry plays a significant role in how we emotionally react.
What makes someone go from simply being hungry to full-on "hangry"?
The researchers conducted two types of experiments, online and live. The study asserts that feeling hangry happens not just when you are super hungry, but when those feelings turn up as strong emotions about the people or situation you are now in.
MacCormack said the goal of their study is to better understand the psychology behind why a person gets angry when he is hungry. In the first, 400 people were shown images created to incite a positive, negative, or neutral response; then they rated a separate, ambiguous image on a scale from pleasant to unpleasant. They were then shown a Chinese pictogram and were asked to interpret it using a scale ranging from pleasant to unpleasant.
The researchers found that hungry participants, who were primed with a negative image before seeing the ambiguous Chinese pictograph, were more likely to rate them as negative, while hungry participants primed with positive or neutral images did not rate the pictograph as negative.
Lead author Jennifer MacCormack explained: "The idea here is that the negative images provided a context for people to interpret their hunger feelings as meaning the pictographs were unpleasant".
As if that wasn't enough, the researchers were then instructed to come into the room and blame the student for the computer crash. There was no effect for neutral or positive images.
Those who felt hungrier and were shown the angry dog tended to rate the pictogram as unpleasant, insinuating to researchers that existing negativity contributed to negative interpretations later on.
The second experiment was conducted on 200 university students that had to either eat or fast before the test, with some of them also asked to write about their emotions.
"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", she said.
Unsurprisingly, when the participants were asked to fill out questionnaires on their emotions and the quality of the experiment, it was pretty negative.
However, hungry students who spent time thinking about their emotions before the computer exercise did not report negative emotions or social perceptions about the researcher.
"They thought the experimenter was more judgmental", MacCormack told NPR.
Based on the study's results, hungrier participants had a greater chance of giving the pictograph a negative rating after they were shown a negative image beforehand.
"Our bodies play a powerful role in shaping our moment-to-moment experiences, perceptions, and behaviors - whether we are hungry versus full, exhausted versus rested or sick versus healthy", said MacCormack.