Yes, You Can Actually Be Hangry

Hangry — a clever mash-up of the words hungry and angry — may be more than just a cutesy term to describe the crabbiness we feel when our stomach begins to growl. A new longitudinal study shows that hangry is actually a real state of mind.

Published in the scientific journal PLOS One, the study was based on self-reported data collected over the course of three weeks from 64 European participants between the ages of 18 and 60, most of who were women. When prompted by a smartphone app, individuals were asked to complete survey questions at five different points during the day pertaining to their current emotional state, degree of hunger, and time that had elapsed between meals. Three out of the five daily reminders were set for 8 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m. with the remaining two survey reminders sent at random each day. Survey questions gauged participant levels of hunger, irritability, anger, pleasure, and arousal by asking individuals to rank their responses on a scale of 0 to 100. At the end of the study, researchers also evaluated participants' eating habits (per Healthline).

The physiology of being hangry

With a grand total of more than 9,000 survey responses, the research revealed a positive correlation between increased levels of hunger and increased feelings of anger and irritability. Participants also reported experiencing lower levels of pleasure when hungry. Such results remained consistent after factoring in participants' eating habits, trait anger, body mass index, sex, and age.

As written in the study, researchers feel these findings could be significant in helping individuals recognize and regulate their emotions by being able to put a name to the feeling. However, the study team acknowledged the limitations of their research, saying they did not calculate physiological indicators of hunger, such as glucose levels or salivary secretions. This indicates that further research is still needed regarding biological factors that may influence our hangry behaviors. The Mayo Clinic has insight to offer when it comes to the role physiology may play. "When you haven't eaten for a while, the level of sugar (glucose) in your blood decreases," gastroenterologist Dr. Christine Lee told the Mayo Clinic. She goes on to describe that this prompts the release of cortisol and adrenaline in the body. "The release of cortisol can cause aggression in some people" states Dr. Lee.