The study's lead author Jennifer MacCormack, said: "The objective of our research is to better understand the psychological mechanisms of hunger-induced emotional states-in this case, how someone becomes hangry".
Not everyone's emotions seemed to be skewed by their hunger; in fact, most remained neutral judges of the images.
The research team from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill ran two online experiments with about 400 participants. Some of them were shown an image created to induce positive feelings, others were shown a negative image, while others were shown a neutral image, such as a Chinese pictograph. The men and women were asked about their hunger levels and to rate the image on a scale from pleasant to unpleasant.
"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 Ms MacCormack.
Those who wrote about the neutral experience and fasted beforehand were more likely to express stress and feeling hateful, leading researchers to conclude being in a stressful situation and not being in tune with your emotions can make you cross the line from hunger to "hanger".
MORE: You Asked: Why Do I Get Hangry?
New research published Monday in the journal Emotion has found that it isn't just physiology that is making you hangry, but it is actually the emotional tone of the environment you are in.
"You don't just become hungry and start lashing out at the universe", said assistant professor Kristen Lindquist, PhD, the study's co-author.
In a second experiment, more than 200 students were invited into a laboratory to complete a number of tasks: one of these was a tedious exercise on a computer sneakily created to crash right before they finished it, a fault blamed on the student by a researcher. Some of the students were asked to complete a writing exercise about their emotions and others wrote about a neutral, everyday experience. Interestingly it was only the hungry participants that were also shown an image that caused negative feelings that rated the pictographs as negative. Students were asked to complete a tedious exercise on a computer that, unbeknownst to them, was programmed to crash just before it could be completed.
In light of their study, the researchers beleive that the key distinction between hungry people and hangry ones lies in the context each finds themselves in, and how self-aware they are. They also reported how hungry they were. The researchers then blamed the students on the crash. Participants then filled out questionnaires.
The researchers believe a person's emotional awareness therefore contributes to their risk if tipping into hanger. "By better understanding the factors that lead us to become hangry, we can give people the tools to recognize when hunger is impacting their feelings and behaviors". "The objective of our research is to better understand the psychological mechanisms of hunger-induced emotional states - in this case, how someone becomes hangry".
"The negative images provided a context for people to interpret their hunger feelings as meaning the pictographs were unpleasant", said the study's lead author, psychology doctoral student Jennifer MacCormack.
More research is needed to further understand why some people can't skip breakfast without getting miserable by lunchtime, but these studies provide initial clues.
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