You Won’t Like Me When I’m Hangry: The Science Behind Hunger Induced Anger

shutterstock_226371208Everyone has felt it – the short temper that creeps over you when the waiter seems to serve every other table before so much as taking your order; when your first meal of the day is the free samples at Costco and the person in front of you takes the very last artisan meatball; when the fast food drive-though could not move ANY slower. This phenomenon of hunger-induced anger has not gone unnoticed by anyone whose ever gone to the supermarket with an empty stomach.

This state of being “hangry” – a word invented to describe the feeling of being hungry-angry – was previously an unexplained correlation. Now, however, researchers the University of Sydney seem to have found an evolutionary explanation for this feeling. In her book “Don’t Go Hungry for Life,” Amanda Salis explains the chemical mechanisms that lead to this sensation.  Our glucose levels drop as time passes since our last meal. When this occurs, our bodies are alerted to produce other chemicals, most notably, adrenaline (also known as epinephrine) and cortisol. These are stress hormones, the same that one would feel in a fight-or-flight scenario. It’s these hormones that increase ones irritability.

Before you get frustrated at all of this unnecessary stress your body is putting you through, realize that this stress has not always been unnecessary. This chemical reaction originally served as a survival mechanism for early humans. Salis explains how this could have developed over the course of human evolution, noting “if hungry organisms stood back and graciously let others eat before them, their species could die out.” Species that exhibit this stress response, therefore, are more likely to survive.

So next time your “hanger” has you ready to become an uncontrollable rage monster, remember that it’s only natural- natural selection that is.

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