Whether you’re wishing your partner would hurry up with the roast potato-laden Sunday lunch or can’t talk to a soul until you’ve had your morning bagel, we’ve all fallen victim to ‘hanger’ (much to the dismay of anyone around us).
But next time someone passes judgement on your short-fused temper, you’ll have some scientific research to back up your mood.
Through two separate experiments, the scientific researchers discovered that when we’re peckish we experience increased levels of stress and perceive scenarios or even people in a negative light.
Ultimately, two factors control how hangry we feel: context and self-awareness.
The team’s first experiment involved more than 400 American participants who were each shown an image designed to induce positive, neutral or negative emotions. Then, they were shown an ambiguous image – a Chinese pictograph – and asked to rate the image on a seven-point scale from pleasant to unpleasant. Participants were also asked to disclose how hungry they felt.
According to findings, the hungrier the participants were, the more likely they were to rate the Chinese pictographs as negative images. There was no effect noted for neutral or positive images.
“The idea here is that the negative images provided a context for people to interpret their hunger feelings as meaning the pictographs were unpleasant,” said lead author, professor Jennifer MacCormack. “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.”
The study’s co-author, Kristen Lindquist, further explained: “You don’t just become hungry and start lashing out at the universe.”
“We’ve all felt hungry, recognised the unpleasantness of hunger, had a sandwich and felt better. We find that feeling hangry happens when you feel unpleasantness due to hunger but interpret those feelings as strong emotions about other people or the situation you’re in.”
Alongside environmental cues, how hangry a person feels is also affected by their level of emotional awareness. This means that if you’re more aware that your hunger is behind your foul mood then you’re less likely to feel hangry.
To prove this theory, a second experiment demonstrated that hungry participants reported more unpleasant emotions like stress and negative feelings towards others when they were not focused on the reasoning behind their emotions.
But how should we learn to control our hanger?
According to MacCormack, “simply taking a step back from the present situation and recognising how you’re feeling, you can still be you even when hungry.”
She added, “It’s important to take care of our bodies, to pay attention to those bodily signals and not discount them, because they matter not just for our long term mental health, but also for the day-to-day quality of our psychological experiences, social relationships and work performance.”
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