Hangry? Here’s How Your Hunger Can Affect Relationships at Home

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Everyone knows that no one is exactly happy when he or she is hungry, but did you know there is a specific name for that hunger-induced crankiness you feel? “Hangry” is the term given to the phenomenon, and as you can probably guess, the word is derived from the combination of the words “hungry” and “angry.” Psychologist Brad Bushman from Ohio State University spoke about the issue Tuesday on NPR, and he did so as he explained his recent study, which he conducted to help answer his questions of how hunger-induced irritability affects relationships. He specifically wanted to determine: “Does low blood sugar turn even spouses into frenemies?”

Bushman recruited 107 couples for a study and assessed the quality of their relationships when their blood sugar levels were at various levels. The psychologist taught the subjects how to measure their blood sugar and then sent each of them home with a voodoo doll and 51 pins. Bushman told NPR: “We told the participants this doll represented their spouse, and that every night before they went to bed they should stab the doll with pins depending on how angry they were with their spouse. So the more pins they put in the doll, the angrier they were with their spouse.”

Although many people attribute the anger or annoyance they feel with their spouse to stress, sleep deprivation, or anxiety, not as many people recognize that hunger or low glucose levels are significant triggers, too. As evidenced by Bushman’s study, however, that should be a factor for many consider. Bushman and his team reported Monday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that after three weeks of the study, they assessed the damage done to each doll and found that volunteers who had low levels of blood glucose stuck more pins in the voodoo dolls than those who had high levels of blood glucose, according to NPR.

It’s startling to hear that the subjects with the lowest blood sugar levels stuck more than twice as many pins in the voodoo doll compared to people with the highest levels, right? That paints a scary picture for any couples made up of two individuals with low blood sugar levels, but it actually gets worse. In his study, Bushman also wanted to determine whether those with hunger-induced, angry feelings also were likely to show uglier behavior, and that’s why he had the couples play a computer game in which the winner got to blast his or her spouse with a terrible noise that Bushman likened to “fingernails scratching on chalkboards, dentist drills, sirens.” The psychologist told NPR he found that the lower a person’s blood sugar, the more likely he or she was to blast a spouse. All righty then.

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So what can we take from this recent research, other than the fact that we should make sure our spouses are always satiated? Bushman told NPR: “What we conclude is that glucose is the food for the brain that we need to exercise self-control. And when people’s glucose levels are low, they are poorer at exercising self-control.”

Consumers should recognize that the brain needs sugar for its energy needs; neurons can’t function as well without it. People should therefore be conscientious about keeping snacks with protein and carbohydrates around so they can ensure their blood glucose levels are always where they need to be, especially in stressful situations. Bushman also maintained to NPR, “The take-home message from this [study] would be to make sure you’re not hungry when you talk about important issues with your spouse.”

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