By Tanja Reutelingsperger
When I am starving, people can better avoid me. I snap at them for no reason and I might get mad about the slightest inconveniences. While eating a peanut butter sandwich, some muesli, or, when times are really bad, a whole bag of candy, I can slowly feel the anger leaving my body. This phenomenon is better known to the public as “The Hangry”, a name coined from a combination of the words hungry and angry. But is The Hangry an actual thing or can I not blame my low glucose levels for causing my agitated behaviour?
The effect on relationships of being hungry was studied by Bushman et al.1 For 21 constitutive days, evening glucose levels of 107 married couples were measured together with their aggressiveness towards their partner. As it is known that many people are the most aggressive towards their most intimate partners, married couples were chosen to participate in this research. Each participant received a voodoo doll that represented their spouse. Subsequently, the participants were asked to insert between 0 and 51 pins into the doll, depending on how angry they were with their spouse. When evening glucose levels were lower, the number of pins stuck in the voodoo dolls was significantly higher the day after. So, the higher aggressive impulses seem to be associated with lower glucose levels.2
In the same study, another method for measuring aggression in relation to hunger was used.1 Participants were told to compete with their partner to see who is the fastest in pressing a button. The loser would hear a loud annoying noise through headphones, like ambulance sirens or fingernails scraping a chalkboard, and the volume and duration of the noise was determined by the winner. The participants were, however, actually competing against a computer and would all hear a loud annoying noise 13 out of 25 rounds. The duration and intensity of the noise chosen by the winner for their spouse was found to be negatively correlated with the glucose level of the winner.
These correlations support the hypothesis that being hungry does lead to more aggressive behaviour. However, before you go running to a candy store instead of a relationship therapist, you should realize that this research found a correlation, not a causality between low glucose and aggressiveness. Moreover, the researchers of this study did not take glucose tolerance into account. As some people are more effective in breaking down glucose to energy, this can confound the results.
Nevertheless, just to be sure, I will not make appointments with friends on an empty stomach anymore. How about you?
- Bushman, B.J., Dewall, C.N., Pond, R.S., Jr. & Hanus, M.D. Low glucose relates to greater aggression in married couples. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 111, 6254-6257 (2014).
- Dewall, C.N., et al. The voodoo doll task: Introducing and validating a novel method for studying aggressive inclinations. Aggressive behavior 39, 419-439 (2013).