New study shows what being "hangry" really means

A woman enjoys some food during Scottish Grand National Day at Ayr

"We all know that hunger can sometimes affect our emotions and perceptions of the world around us, but it's only recently that the expression hangry, meaning bad-tempered or irritable because of hunger, was accepted by the Oxford Dictionary", said lead author Jennifer MacCormack, MA, a doctoral student in the department of psychology and neurocience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. That indicates an awareness that hunger manifests as emotions makes you less likely to become hangry.

Hangry is one of those words that absolutely sounds made up and is just a result of the Millennial generation's need to put a label on every feeling and experience and pose made in pictures.

To better understand what causes it, MacCormack and her colleagues did a series of experiments and found that being in a stressful situation-and not being in tune with your emotions-may both make a person cross the line from hunger into hanger. They presented the subjects with pictures that would invoke either positive, negative or neutral reactions and were asked to say how hungry they were. They were then shown a Chinese pictograph, and were asked to rate it based on pleasantness. The men and women were asked about their hunger levels and to rate the image on a scale from pleasant to unpleasant.

In those situations, the unpleasantness of feeling hungry is psychologically interpreted as negative emotions toward a given situation.

MORE: You Asked: Why Do I Get Hangry?

The Oxford Dictionary only added that word and its definition in January, but we've all experienced this unusual emotion our whole lives - and new research suggests it's more complicated than just getting a li'l grouchy when your blood sugar is low.

In a second experiment, more than 200 students were invited into a laboratory to complete a number of tasks: one of these was a tedious exercise on a computer sneakily created to crash right before they finished it, a fault blamed on the student by a researcher. The students who hadn't eaten were more likely to report feeling stressed and hateful if they had not done the writing exercise focusing on their emotions.

Image    The context around hungry people plays a big part in being hangry
Image The context around hungry people plays a big part in being hangry

It turned out that hungry participants exposed to negative images were more likely to negatively interpret the pictograph. After it would crash, a researcher would come into the room and blame the student for the crash. This implied, to the researchers, that people who are less aware of their emotional states may be more likely to react with hanger. Hungry individuals were more likely to report negatively about the event, and they were also more likely to believe that the researcher was more judgemental or harsh.

The students were then asked to fill out questionnaires asking them about their emotions and the quality of the experiment.

Insights like these may help people prevent themselves from getting hangry.

Dr. Kristen Lindquist, the study's co-author commented in a statement: "We've all felt hungry, recognized the unpleasantness as hunger, had a sandwich and felt better".

Her team wanted to understand the psychological mechanisms at play when our hunger prompts an emotional response.

Sophie Medlin, a lecturer in nutrition at King's College London who was not involved in the paper but has previously researched hanger, said this was the first study to look into the matter since the term was adopted into everyday language, and therefore offers a new understanding of the phenomenon in this context.

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