You’ve probably felt that intense irritation that clouds your judgment when you haven’t eaten in a while. Colloquially known as “hanger,” this curious state is more than just a feeling. It’s a psychological phenomenon that has roots in biology.
The Blood Sugar Connection
One of the main culprits behind hanger is blood sugar levels. Your blood sugar drops when you don’t eat for an extended period. A study by the University of Cambridge 2007 showed that low blood sugar levels are linked to aggression and irritability. The brain needs glucose to function correctly, and when it doesn’t get enough, your ability to control emotions like anger diminishes.
The Role of Hormones
Hunger causes your body to release certain hormones. For instance, neuropeptide Y is released when your stomach is empty and has been linked to aggression. A 2010 study by the University of Tsukuba in Japan showed that neuropeptide Y makes individuals more aggressive.
Being hangry might also have evolutionary roots. A study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2014 posits that our ancestors needed to be aggressive when hungry to compete for scarce resources. Though the context has changed in modern times, the physiological response remains similar.
Hunger also results in increased levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. This combination of hunger and stress makes us more susceptible to negative emotions, exacerbating the feeling of anger. In 2015, a study by Ohio State University found that married couples were more likely to have arguments on an empty stomach due to increased stress levels.
Being aware of hanger and understanding its causes can help in managing it. Here are a few steps to take:
Eating at regular intervals ensures that your blood sugar levels remain stable, reducing the likelihood of becoming hangry.
Opt for foods that release energy slowly, like whole grains and proteins. This will help keep blood sugar levels even.
Engage in activities that help you manage stress. Doing so can diminish the intensity of the hanger.
Let others know when you’re feeling hangry to avoid misunderstandings. It’s also helpful to know when someone else might be hangry and not just grumpy.
Being hangry is a natural phenomenon deeply rooted in our biology. By understanding the science behind it, we can take steps to manage this state and maintain a more balanced emotional life. Next time you feel the rage boiling within, it might be time for a sandwich.
Bushman, B.J., et al. (2007). Effects of Glycemic Load on Human Aggression. The University of Cambridge.
Katsuhiko, N., et al. (2010). Aggressive Behavior and Extracellular Neuropeptide Y Levels. University of Tsukuba.
Dunn, T.J., et al. (2014). An Evolutionary Perspective on Hanger. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Kiecolt-Glaser, J.K., et al. (2015). Marital Discord and Blood Glucose Levels. Ohio State University.