Feeling hangry? There’s actually science that explains why
Every human who’s ever waited an hour or two too long for lunch knows that being hangry is a very real thing.
But what does science say about the phenomenon that makes us all feel a little cranky once our tummies start rumbling?
Until recently, not too much. But Simon Oxenham wrote for his column Brain Scanner, which “sifts the pseudoscience from the neuroscience,” according to New Scientist, that there is evidence that feeling hangry is a real, physical thing.
According to Oxenham’s research, it’s all about blood glucose, which gets lower and lower the longer we go without eating. When it’s at a low point right before a meal, it can trigger the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, as well as a chemical called neuropeptide Y, which is shown to make people lash out aggressively. Sound like anyone you know who’s gone too long without a snack?
There have also been studies that have shown, albeit anecdotally, how being hangry can effect personal relationships.
“A classic study of married couples asked them to stick pins into voodoo dolls that represented their loved ones, to reflect how angry they felt towards them,” Oxenham writes. “The volunteers then competed against their spouse in a game, in which the winner could blast loud noise through the loser’s headphones. The researchers tracked the participants’ blood glucose levels throughout. They found that when people had lower sugar levels, the longer the blasts of unpleasant noise they subjected their spouse to, and the more pins they stuck into their dolls.”
So being hungry makes people feel literally stabby toward their spouses. Yikes.
Another study showed that judges tend to give harsher sentences in cases that happen right before lunchtime, Oxenham says. That one is a little less reliable, though.
“The findings from this study have never been replicated, and a newer analysis by Andreas Glöckner at the University of Hagen, in Germany, has suggested an alternative explanation,” Oxenham writes. “Harsher sentences may in fact be more likely towards the end of the morning because judges schedule simpler cases for this time. More complicated, lengthier cases carry a risk of running over into their lunch break.”
Still, the research seems pretty clear that there’s a link between feeling less than happy and having an empty stomach. And even if the actual science is a little lacking, there’s enough anecdotal evidence for us to feel pretty justified in snapping a little bit when we need a sandwich.