Ever felt hungry and angry at the same time? There’s evidence that “hanger” is a real phenomenon, one that can affect your work and relationships.
Blood glucose level drops
The main reason we become more irritable when hungry is because our blood glucose level drops. This can make it difficult for us to concentrate, and more likely to snap at those around us.
Low blood sugar also triggers the release of stress-related hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, as well as a chemical called neuropeptide Y, which has been found to make people behave more aggressively towards those around them.
The experiment with “Vodoo Dolls”
This can all have an alarming effect on how you feel about other people – even those you love. A classic study of married couples asked them to stick pins into “voodoo dolls” that represented their loved ones, to reflect how angry they felt towards them. The volunteers then competed against their spouse in a game, in which the winner could blast loud noise through the loser’s headphones.
The researchers tracked the participants’ blood glucose levels throughout. They found that when people had lower sugar levels, the longer the blasts of unpleasant noise they subjected their spouse to, and the more pins they stuck into their dolls.
But while being hungry really does change your behaviour, the effects of hanger have sometimes been overstated. One study that attracted attention a few years ago found that judges are less likely to set lenient sentences the closer it gets to lunch.
However, the findings from this study have never been replicated, and a newer analysis by Andreas Glöckner at the University of Hagen, in Germany, has suggested an alternative explanation. Harsher sentences may in fact be more likely towards the end of the morning because judges schedule simpler cases for this time. More complicated, lengthier cases carry a risk of running over into their lunch break. “Simulations show that the direct causal effects of eating on favourable rulings is overestimated by at least 23 per cent,” says Glöckner.
We won’t know for certain what causes the nasty judge effect until more research is done. But one thing is clear – it certainly isn’t advisable to make important decisions on an empty stomach.