'The goal of our research is to better understand the psychological mechanisms of hunger-induced emotional states - in this case, how someone becomes hangry, ' said lead study author Jennifer MacCormack, a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina (UNC). "But we still don't know much about the psychological mechanisms that transform hunger into feeling hangry".
"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", say MacCormack.
The research team from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill ran two online experiments with about 400 participants.
The team ran an online experiment to how emotional cues can prime you to become hangry, exposing hundreds of participants to images created to induce either positive, negative or neutral feelings. They were also shown a neutral Chinese pictograph, which they then had to rate as either pleasant or unpleasant on a seven-point scale. The hungrier the people were, the more likely they were to report that the image was unpleasant if they were shown a negative image before it.
"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", explained Dr Lindquist.
The Oxford Dictionary only added that word and its definition in January, but we've all experienced this odd emotion our whole lives - and new research suggests it's more complicated than just getting a li'l grouchy when your blood sugar is low.
In a separate experiment, researchers asked more than 200 college students to either fast or eat before completing exercises created to focus on their emotions.
Some of the students were asked to do a writing exercise about their emotions and others wrote about a neutral experience. 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. One of the researchers then came into the room and blamed the student for the computer crash. The researchers found that hungry individuals reported greater unpleasant emotions like feeling stressed and hateful when they were not explicitly focused on their own emotions.
Participants were then asked to fill out a questionnaire on their emotion and the quality of the experiment.
The researchers believe a person's emotional awareness therefore contributes to their risk if tipping into hanger.
Scientific researchers have now studied how hunger manifests as an emotion and found that we interpret ambiguous images and scenarios as negatives when we're hungry. "The objective of our research is to better understand the psychological mechanisms of hunger-induced emotional states - in this case, how someone becomes hangry".
Sophie Medlin, a lecturer in nutrition at King's College London who was not involved in the paper but has previously researched hanger, said this was the first study to look into the matter since the term was adopted into everyday language, and therefore offers a new understanding of the phenomenon in this context. "Although we all get hungry, there's surprising variability in appetite, how long people can go without eating and how good people are at noticing their hunger cues", says 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.