How Hunger Changes the Mood

Published on: 27 Feb 2017

There is new evidence that the condition of being “hangry” – so hungry that you become irritable and angry – really exists.

It is thought that this very real phenomenon can affect work and relationships, particularly with those who are closest to us                                              

Blood glucose link

HangryIf you work in quality assurance and have to sample food all day long, then you have probably never experienced this phenomenon. But those who have say that they become irritable and more likely to snap at others when they are feeling hungry.

In fact, the irritability is linked to a drop in blood glucose levels. Having low blood glucose can make it harder for us to concentrate as well as affecting our mood. It triggers the release of stress-related hormones which can make you behave more aggressively. These include cortisol, adrenaline, and neuropeptide Y.

There was a study into this effect which looked at married couples – who, you might think, would be the most likely to have affectionate thoughts towards one another. The researchers tracked the blood glucose levels of the participants and had them take part in a series of tests. One of them was to stick pins into voodoo dolls which were said to represent their loved ones. This would reflect how angry they were towards them. Afterwards, they would compete against their husband or wife in a game which had the winner blasting loud noises through the headphones of the loser.

Interestingly, the researchers found at the end of the study that the lower the level of blood glucose, the more pins they would stick into the dolls, and the longer they would blast their spouses with unpleasant noises for.

Application in law

There has been an interesting suggestion that hunger could even be directing the fate of people’s lives, in the form of court case decisions. A few years ago, much attention was paid to a study which looked at judges and whether their sentences were lenient or harsh. They found that lenient sentences were less likely to be handed out the closer it was to lunch – and, therefore, the hungrier the judges were.

JudgeBut this might not be a reason to start introducing legislation for judges to eat snacks in court. In fact, the study’s results have not been replicated since. Andreas Glöckner is a researcher at the University of Hagen in Germany who believe he may have found a different explanation: that judges don’t want to miss their lunch breaks, and therefore will schedule cases which are simpler to work through in the hours beforehand. “Simulations show that the direct causal effects of eating on favourable rulings is overestimated by at least 23 per cent,” says Glöckner. But his is just one opposing theory, and we need to see more research into this area before we can really make a decision one way or another.

Perhaps for now we should be recommending that hiring managers only look into food recruitment and make decisions on candidates after they have had a full and hearty lunch – after all, it could be affecting the way that businesses are run. Whatever decisions you have to make, it’s probably best not to do them on an empty stomach – and if you have been arguing a lot with your spouse lately, perhaps that new diet is to blame.

Still, it will be interesting to see more research scientists look into this cause and effect of blood glucose. Just how many areas of our lives could be affected by this? It may be a breakthrough that changes how we look at productivity and decision making.