(H)anger is real: your bad mood and empty stomach are linked

Grumpy? Long time between meals? Well now you can cheer up, thanks to a new study validating the link between your cranky mood and grumbly belly – your ‘hanger’ is real.

Psychologists studying a group of primarily Austrian, German and Swiss adults have found an association between self-reported hunger, and heightened levels of anger and irritability.

Helping people understand their own emotional responses to feelings of hunger could help them better regulate their behaviour, says Anglia Ruskin University professor in social psychology Viren Swami.

“Research suggests that being able to label an emotion can help people to regulate it,” says Swami, who was the lead author of the study published in Plos One. “Therefore, greater awareness of being ‘hangry’ could reduce the likelihood that hunger results in negative emotions and behaviours in individuals.”

The three-week study monitored 64 participants who submitted five daily reports to researchers via a smartphone app.

In each report, participants used a 0–100 scale to evaluate how hungry, irritable and angry they felt.

Even when accounting for demographic differences between participants, there was an association between hunger and heightened levels of irritability, anger and reduced feelings of pleasure.

It’s the first time the phenomenon has been investigated outside of a laboratory environment and adds to an existing body of research showing that declines in blood glucose levels influences negative emotions.

“This ‘hangry’ effect hasn’t been analysed in detail, so we chose a field-based approach where participants were invited to respond to prompts,” explains study co-author Stefan Stieger, professor of psychology at Karl Landsteiner University.

“[It gives] a much more complete picture of how people experience the emotional outcomes of hunger in their everyday lives.”

The researchers didn’t offer conclusions as to how to mitigate hunger-induced feelings. Reaching for a banana next time you feel cross is probably a safe bet.

Please login to favourite this article.