University Of North Carolina Study Explains Why People Get ‘Hangry’


The word “hangry” may have only been added to the Oxford English dictionary early this year, but it describes something that people have been feeling for countless generations when hunger drives one to feel irritable or temperamental. Now, a new study suggests that it’s more than just hunger that makes people feel this way.

In a study published Monday by the American Psychological Association, a team of researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill examined the psychological mechanisms that could influence people to feel hangry. This was done by recruiting more than 400 participants, who were given a series of online tests where they were shown images that could trigger positive, negative, or neutral feelings.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the participants were then shown an “ambiguous” Chinese pictograph, and asked to rate the photo on a scale of one to seven based on how pleasant or unpleasant the photo had made them feel and to discuss how hungry they felt at the time they were rating the pictograph.

Based on the study’s results, hungrier participants had a greater chance of giving the pictograph a negative rating after they were shown a negative image beforehand. Those who said they felt hungry but were shown positive or neutral images before being shown the pictograph didn’t react in such a negative manner.

“The idea here is that the negative images provided a context for people to interpret their hunger feelings as meaning the pictographs were unpleasant,” explained study lead author Jennifer MacCormack, in a statement quoted by the New York Post.

“So there seems to be something special about unpleasant situations that makes people draw on their hunger feelings more than, say, in pleasant or neutral situations.”


Separately, the same team of researchers looked at a different group of 236 people, all undergraduate students at UNC, who were then divided into two groups and asked to eat or fast before taking a writing test. In an effort to see if the fasting participants would get hangry, the researchers deliberately crashed the participants’ computers with the “blue screen of death” just as they were about to complete the test. Adding salt to the wounds, the participants were also accused of causing the crash by hitting the wrong buttons, according to NPR.

After letting the participants cool off for a bit, the researchers asked the students to complete an emotion questionnaire disguised as a research satisfaction survey. According to MacCormack, all of the participants were upset at how the writing test turned out, but the hungry students appeared “especially angry” and felt “significantly more hate” than others.

Looking at the results of both studies, MacCormack said that being “hangry” is something that might be controllable, as long as a person takes stock of where they’re at and realizes that they need to step back for a bit.

“A well-known commercial once said, ‘You’re not you when you’re hungry,’ but our data hint that by simply taking a step back from the present situation and recognizing how you’re feeling, you can still be you even when hungry.”

Assistant professor and study co-author Kristen Lindquist added that the state of being hangry is one where people “feel unpleasantness due to hunger,” but also feel “strong emotions” about their current situation or other people.

The new study comes about one month after a British researcher described being hangry as a “real emotional state,” according to a previous report from the Inquisitr. King’s College lecturer and dietitian Sophie Medlin explained that the chemicals in the brain that trigger hunger and anger are identical, thus making it a legitimate emotion. However, she also added that the feeling of “hanger” could be positive in the sense that it could be a survival mechanism, one that had helped humans survive in earlier times.