The term “hangry” — a portmanteau of the words hungry and angry — is used to express the general irritability and negative mood that comes with being in the state of hunger. New research published in PLoS One found that self-reported feelings of hunger are associated with anger, irritability, and lower pleasant mood in a longitudinal field study.
Early studies have linked hunger with feelings of restlessness, nervousness, and irritability in adults, and conduct difficulties in children, but the link between hunger and emotions or mood has not been so clear. Therefore, in the present study, the authors aimed to assess how hunger affects emotions in people’s everyday lives.
“As the most direct test of a link between hunger and anger (i.e., being hangry), we assessed the extent to which self-reported levels of hunger were associated with day-to-day fluctuations in anger over a 3-week period,” wrote study author Viren Swami and colleagues. “However, because the effects of hunger are unlikely to be unique to anger, we also asked about experiences of irritability and, in order to obtain a more holistic view of emotionality, pleasure, and arousal as indexed using Russell’s affect grid.”
The researchers recruited a final sample of 64 participants most of whom were from Austria and Germany via social networks of the authors. Participants were tasked with completing a daily survey five times a day for 21 days. In this questionnaire, they were asked how hungry they were in the current moment, how irritable they felt, and how angry they felt. They were also asked to indicate their current emotional state using Russell’s affect grid of two scales: pleasant to unpleasant and low to high arousal. They were also asked to indicate when they had their last meal.
At the end of this phase of the study, participants completed another set of questions about their eating behaviors from the previous 3 weeks, measures on their general dietary behavior, measures of their trait anger, and measures of their eating motivations.
Results show that hunger was associated with greater anger, irritability, and lower pleasure, but not associated with arousal. “Our results suggested that both everyday variations in hunger, as well as mean hunger levels over the previous three weeks, were predictive of negative emotions.”
Although there are many possible explanations as to why hunger may affect negative emotions, these reasons cannot be known from this data. The authors do cite other limitations to this work, including the reliance on a single item measure of anger and irritability and the reliance on self-report levels of hunger. Physiological measures of blood sugar and other indicators of hunger in future studies could further support these results.
The study, “Hangry in the field: An experience sampling study on the impact of hunger on anger, irritability, and affect“, was authored by Viren Swami,Samantha Hochstöger, Erik Kargl, and Stefan Stieger.