Researchers recruited more than 200 college students to participate in a study on hunger-induced emotions. Before coming to the lab, half of them fasted and the other half ate. Once there, they were asked to complete a tedious exercise on a computer, which was rigged to crash before they could finish.
According to the results, published in the journal Emotion, the people who fasted felt more stress and hate in the situation than those who had eaten beforehand.
When you’re due for your next meal, your body’s blood sugar levels drop and stress hormones are released, making you feel tense, explains lead study author Jennifer MacCormack, a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The brain has a hard time distinguishing whether the resulting irritation is caused by an internal source (hunger) or an external one, like a coworker asking a simple question. When you blame it on the external source, hunger turns to hanger.
There’s a way to stop it: In the study, some of the fasted students first completed a task that made them more conscious of their emotions. These people were less likely to experience hanger than the other hungry participants.
MacCormack suggests arranging stressful meetings and to-dos after breakfast or lunch when possible. Otherwise, take this as a lesson in mindfulness: Being aware of your hunger and your emotions makes you less likely to have a hanger-fueled outburst.