People have been throwing around the term “hangry” for a few years now. It’s a hybrid of “hungry” and “angry” meant to describe the emotional state of someone who’s acting like an a-hole because they’ve missed a meal or two. That Snickers commercial with Joe Pesci summed it up pretty much perfectly.
But just because something is adopted into the cultural zeitgeist doesn’t mean it holds water in the scientific sense. According to the Journal of Pharmacology, however, the concept of “hanger” does stand up to the rigours of science.
“Essentially we asked the question of whether a sudden drop in glucose availability to the body can indeed have an emotional effect that is aversive,” Francesco Leri, professor and chair of the department of psychology at the University of Guelph, told The Star.
Leri and fellow researchers measured the emotional behaviour of rats who were subjected to sudden drops in blood sugar and found the little critters reacted much like you’d think a human would: they were not into it. Specifically, the team moved the rats to a particular environment and gave them a substance that temporarily prevented their cells from taking up glucose. The result? The rats became sluggish and lazy.
“You might argue that this is because they need glucose to make their muscles work,” Leri told The Star. “But when we gave them a commonly used antidepressant, the sluggish behaviour was not observed. The animals moved around normally. This is interesting because their muscles still weren’t getting the glucose, yet their behaviour changed.”
Then, once the rats had sobered up, researchers noticed they were avoiding the areas in which they’d received the glucose blocker, now associating the location with a negative physiological state. To further prove their hypothesis, Leri’s team also tested the rats’ blood for cortisol, a hormone triggered by stress, and discovered elevated levels.
So what does all this mean for people who feel upset because they forgot to pack a mid-morning snack?
“It’s a biological validation that there’s nothing wrong with them,” Leri said. “The implication here is that if these mechanisms are dysregulated in some individuals, then nutrition plays a key role in mental health.”
The takeaway: if you’re feeling peckish and like you want to rip your colleague’s incessantly clicking pen from their hands and toss it out the window, don’t. Remember this lesson in science and toss a handful of almonds into your mouth instead. Or a Snickers–that’ll work too.