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The Truth Behind Why Humans Get Hangry

by Coffee Table Science

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In a Snickers ad back in 2015, a young man turns into actress Rekha and acts crazy while travelling along with his friends. Assuming that the craziness is due to hunger, he is offered a snickers bar and immediately turns back into himself after having it. 

The theme of the advertisement, which made the suggestion that hunger may significantly alter a person’s mood, was “You’re not you when you’re hungry.” 

But is it true? Does hunger significantly alter one’s mood? Is hanger, the feeling of hunger and rage, a real thing? Scientists have discovered that hunger causes hormones to be released and a physiological reaction. On what that entails, though, they disagree. Angry people do exist, according to some scientists. Others claim it’s a biological process rather than an emotional one.

Scientists have learned more about how the body responds to hunger by studying hungry rats. In a 2016 study published in Neuropsychopharmacology, researchers gave rats an injection of a hormone made when the stomach is empty to observe how it affected the rats’ behaviour during feeding tasks that required restraint.

The rats used by the researchers were “mildly food deprived.” Ghrelin, which the stomach generates before ingestion of food, was administered into the rats. A substance that constricts blood vessels, angiotensin, was also administered through injection to the rats. The rats were already trained to do a variety of activities in which they had to exercise restraint in order to get food rewards.

In one exercise, the rats discovered that pressing a lever to release a food pellet required them to wait for a light to flash. The next opportunity to press the lever for a pellet was lost if a rat didn’t wait for the light to flash and pressed it too quickly. The rats couldn’t resist the impulse to rush before the light after receiving the ghrelin injection, even though they knew they would lose the chance to eat the pellets.

The rats discovered in another task that the longer they held off on pressing the lever, the more treat they would receive. Following the ghrelin injection, the rats were impatient to get their reward and demanded their pellets immediately. The authors came to the conclusion that ghrelin decreases self-control and promotes impulsivity. For rats, feeling hungry was both a bodily and emotional condition.

It is not just rats that exhibited altered behaviour when they are starving. According to a 2021 study published in Animal Behaviour, hungry male fruit flies become more hostile. According to the authors, “dietary stress enhances aggressiveness, suggesting that flies feel “hangry.””

Another research examined two populations of Apennine chamois, an antelope-goat hybrid found in the highlands of Italy, France, and Spain. The herds in nutrient-rich and nutrient-poor areas were contrasted by the researchers. They discovered that the herds that were less nourished had greater levels of stress and hostility.

But do humans get hangry? According to studies, a variety of problems with self-control are associated with hunger.

A 2013 Psychology article examined how hungry people behaved. People who were hungry made more mistakes while doing tasks and, like rats, were more likely to lose their composure while their bellies were growling.

Most alarmingly, the authors also examined data from conflict areas and discovered that societal hunger predicted war deaths, which they associated with an inability to regulate their hostility. Additionally, the researchers discovered that those who were hungry had higher levels of both positive and negative views regarding mortality and ethnic minorities.

The scientists argued that hormones like ghrelin may affect a person’s mood in an effort to make sense of the findings. They also believed that losing self-control might be emotionally liberating. Another theory said that aggressive behaviour or bad attitudes were forms of self-preservation that manifested when the body sensed its energy reserves were running short.

However, not all scientists concur that hanger exists. Two psychologists stated that hunger is a physiological state and that individuals give it meaning when they view it as bad in a paper that was published in Emotion in 2019.

To put sentiments into words, they advised identifying the emotion. Affect tagging is a technique that can tame or at least diminish the intensity of a sensation. Therefore, acknowledging that “I’m not myself because I’m hungry” could help someone avoid getting the hangries.

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