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Why You Get Angry When Hungry: “The Hangry Man”

angry woman

How Hunger Influences Your Emotions: “The Hangry Man”


You probably have heard the saying, “a hungry man is an angry man.” Well, nothing could be truer.

You must have noticed how irritable and lackluster you get when hungry. That’s the “hangry” effect, and it’s purely scientific. Study findings show that hunger can make us experience greater levels of anger and irritability, with lower levels of pleasure.


Don’t Starve For Too Long—You Might Get Angry Unnecessarily

We often talk about our desire for everlasting happiness. Of course, our mental health and well-being should come first. But something as seemingly inconsequential as hunger can pose a threat to that.

Hunger can make you flare up and get into problems with people over trivialities. Talk about yelling at your colleague out of frustration by 5 pm simply because you’re dying of hunger and there’s one more paper to file. If you were sated, chances are you neither would have flared up nor hurt that person’s emotions. And if you have anger management issues or intermittent explosive disorder, hunger can be a disaster.

Although most of us are subconsciously aware of our negative emotions when hungry, the phenomenon has never been widely explored scientifically. Fortunately, that box has finally been ticked.


The Research

The new study, led by researchers from the UK and Austria, involved 64 random adult participants from central Europe. They recorded their levels of hunger and emotional well-being over a 21-day period.

Participants were instructed to record these hangry feelings in their everyday environment; home, workplace, name it. The results show that hunger is linked with significantly greater levels of anger and irritability with substantially lower levels of pleasure. Imagine not laughing at your partner’s joke or not being pleased by what they wore just because you’re hungry. That’s not nice now, is it? Your neutrality might hurt their emotions, and that’s unnecessary trouble for you.

Note that sex, age, body mass index, dietary behavior, and individual personality traits were all accounted for in the study. This means that the “hangry” syndrome can happen to anyone. “A hungry man, an angry man?" Well, it happens not to be gender-biased.

But how does this work? Is there a neurological or chemical pathway linking hunger and anger? Why do you get angry when hungry?


How Hunger Influences Emotional Processing

Previous research has revealed that hunger is associated with increases in norepinephrine (also called noradrenaline), a neurotransmitter that may increase alertness in the face of danger. Think fight or flight. Now, if hunger is the “danger” in this case, would you be able to experience significant arousal or pleasure when in danger? No.

Interestingly, this neurotransmitter tends to alter pupil dilation.

A more recent study discovered that sated participants showed greater pupil dilation to emotional stimuli than neutral stimuli. But when hungry, their pupil dilation responses were equally strong for both neutral and emotional stimuli. This shows that hungry people are not very effective in differentiating between emotional and neutral arousal.

That’s why you don’t easily experience pleasure when starving because everything feels more or less the same—be it a joke or random speech.

However, it remains unclear how hunger causes anger, neurologically speaking. Researchers believe low blood sugar levels as a result of hunger could be triggering irritability.


Why The Research Matters

Although the study doesn’t present ways to counter or reduce negative hunger-induced emotions, it helps to understand why you feel the way you do. It is better to recognize that you’re angry simply because you’re hungry and NOT because someone has actually done something wrong.

And finally, it promotes the realization that hunger can affect you in many ways, physically, mentally, and otherwise. So next time hunger comes knocking, you’re better off procrastinating whatever task you have at hand and just answer the door.

Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Hope Mental Health, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.  Ms. Woodland with her background in nursing, prefers a holistic and integrative approach to mental health care that addresses the mind and body together. While Ms. Woodland provides medication management services in all her patients, she believes in long-lasting solutions that include a number of psychotherapies, namely cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention therapy, attention to lifestyle, evidenced based alternative psychiatric care and spirituality. If you’d like to gain control over your mental health issues, call Hope Mental Health at 208-918-0958, or use the online scheduling tool to set up an initial consultation.

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