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Psychologists identify what makes you hangry - and how to cure it

13 June 2018

Participants shown neutral or positive images, however, didn't see any effect.

"You don't just become hungry and start lashing out at the universe", said assistant professor Kristen Lindquist, PhD, the study's co-author.

Researchers found that when participants were primed with a negative image, they were more likely to rate ambiguous Chinese pictographs as negative.

Those who wrote about the neutral experience and fasted beforehand were more likely to express stress and feeling hateful, leading researchers to conclude being in a stressful situation and not being in tune with your emotions can make you cross the line from hunger to "hanger".

Her team wanted to understand the psychological mechanisms at play when our hunger prompts an emotional response. The hungrier the people were, the more likely they were to report that the image was unpleasant if they were shown a negative image before it. The participants rated their hunger as well as whether a series of ambigious pictorgraphs were positive or negative. They also reported how hungry they were.

It's not just environmental cues that can affect whether someone goes from hungry to hangry, according to MacCormack.

"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", say MacCormack. This implied, to the researchers, that people who are less aware of their emotional states may be more likely to react with hanger.

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. After some of the students were asked to complete a writing exercise created to direct their focus on their emotions, all participants were asked to participate in a scenario created to evoke negative emotions. They were then tasked with completing a purposefully tedious exercise, where the computer was programed to crash before it was finished. After it would crash, a researcher would come into the room and blame the student for the crash.

In light of their study, the researchers beleive that the key distinction between hungry people and hangry ones lies in the context each finds themselves in, and how self-aware they are.

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

Understanding hanger can also help researchers learn how "changes to hunger physiology-whether due to old age, chronic dieting, diabetes or eating disorders-could impact downstream emotions and cognitions in these populations", MacCormack says.

You're "hungry" when your body sends cues that it needs nourishment.

Blood sugar levels drop when we get hungry, making us all feel a little weak and uncomfortable. "This means that it's important to take care of our bodies, to pay attention to those bodily signals and not discount them, because they matter not just for our long term mental health, but also for the day-to-day quality of our psychological experiences, social relationships and work performance".

Now, scientists at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill have discovered how the world seems to conspire against us when we are craving food - and how we can back away from "hangry" responses and tantrums. Emotion, published online June 11, 2018.

Psychologists identify what makes you hangry - and how to cure it