How Does Being Hungry Make You Angry?

The famous Snickers ad is now backed by scientific evidence, but only partially: you actually can be you even if hunger has attacked you, but it appears to depend on the environment you are in and your own awareness of your state. Why do we sometimes become angry when hungry – or simply hangry? What arouses negative emotions when our stomach reminds us it’s time to pay attention to it?

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It’s only recently that the OED obtained a new entry that is both curious and funny. The word is hangry, which is a combination of hungry and angry. As seen from the word constituents, it denotes a state of a person who wants to eat, and it affects the way he perceives the world and responds to various triggers.

It’s common knowledge that a hungry person is likely to be more aggressive or just less polite than usual, less patient, and so on. However, the effect cannot be attributed only to lower sugar levels: research revealed that it’s not that simple, and our mind is just as important a party in these body-mind negotiations, and while the body can try to force you to be hostile and irritated when you have a queer feeling in the pit of the stomach, giving it some thought can help.


Two online experiments, which have recently been carried out in the United States, showed that what emotions you experienced prior to becoming hungry can affect whether you will be irritated. Besides, they revealed that being aware of your state mitigates it.

A team of scientists from the University of North Carolina asked ~400 Americans to participate in a series of experiments aimed at finding out what makes a person angry if they are hungry. In the first one, they were shown various pictures: some of them were supposed to arouse positive emotions, others were supposed to cause negative feelings, and the rest were neutral. Then the volunteers were shown a picture the meaning of which was not clear – it was a Chinese pictograph. The volunteers’ task was to rate what feelings they had when they saw it, from positive to negative, using a 7-point scale. Besides, they stated whether they were hungry and how hungry they were.

Having analyzed the data, the scientists came to the conclusion that those who were hungrier tended to see the picture as a negative one. However, one more condition was needed: they had to see an unpleasant-to-see picture to react this way. It means that a hungry person becomes irritated and angry if negative images or experience precede the challenge of responding. That being said, our environment can affect our reactions.

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I know, so I won’t

The aim of the second experiment was to find out whether there is an association between being aware of your feelings and becoming angry. During the experiment, around 200 students were divided into two groups: one of them ate before the experiment, and the other one fasted. Then they completed a tedious task using a computer. The task was a tricky one: it was boring, and the researchers programmed it in such a way so that it would crash right before the task is completed. After the crash, the supervisor would blame the participant for the failure in order to stress them. Then they filled out a questionnaire, in which they shared their opinion on the experiment and stated what emotions they felt.

It turned out that emotional awareness plays a significant role as well, since those who were hungry were more likely to “hate” the experiment, while those who ate were not offended to such an extent.

It appears that our hunger-induced emotions can be controlled, especially if you know about your state. After all, chances are you will enjoy your meal soon, and it’s not worth risking relationships with others. Carrying some snacks in your bag can be a good idea too – as a bonus, your stomach and liver will be grateful for eating smaller portions more often!

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