The science behind being 'hangry'

Jun 15, 2014

Find yourself impatient and lashing out at people? The solution, according to a recent study, may be in the kitchen.

This week on Take Care, Dr. Brad Bushman talks about the concept of "hangry," or being more angry and aggressive when you're hungry. Bushman, a professor of communications and psychology at Ohio State University, recently conducted a study on the subject that involved 107 couples and found that participants with lower blood glucose levels more frequently showed signs of anger.

Click 'Read More' to hear our interview with Dr. Bushman.

Bushman's study first sent the couples home with voodoo dolls and blood glucose meters. The couples were asked to stick pins into the voodoo doll based on how angry they felt with their spouse at that time. They also measured their blood glucose level beforehand. 

After three weeks, the couples were called back in to the study's lab, where they competed in contests. The winner in each contest was allowed to blast the loser with sounds in headphones. Sounds ranged from nails on a chalkboard to smoke alarms. They were given the option for how long to punish their spouse as well.

"Participants who had low levels of glucose stuck more pins in the doll every day and gave their spouse louder and longer noise blasts then those who had higher levels of glucose," Bushman said, adding that the use of the dolls is a relatively new measure used in this kind of study that allows for quantitative results. 

Bushman said emotional control comes from the pre-frontal cortex, an area of the brain just behind the forehead.

"While the brain is only two percent of our body weights, it consumes 20 percent of the calories," Bushman said. "And it gets the calories from glucose, which it gets from food we eat. When that fuel runs low, the brain has difficulty regulating emotions and people tend to become cranky and irritable. Hence the term 'hangry.'"

Bushman said that, while hunger is not the only factor in irritability, its impact is "not trivial."