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The first clinical study to investigate how hunger affects people’s emotions found that feeling hungry is associated with higher levels of anger and irritability and lower levels of pleasure.
That’s according to a recent report published in the Public Library of Science’s peer-reviewed journal PLOS One.
“I wish I had finished my breakfast sandwich but my stubborn self decided not to and now I’m hungry,” American snowboarder Chloe Kim tweeted during the recent Winter Olympics.
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“Many of us are aware that being hungry can influence our emotions, but surprisingly little scientific research has focused on being ‘hungry,'” said lead author Dr Viren Swami, Professor in Social Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University in the UK. a press release about the new study.
“Our study is the first to look at being ‘starved’ outside of a lab,” he also said.
“By following people in their daily lives, we found that hunger was linked to levels of anger, irritability and pleasure.”
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Researchers from the UK and Austria recruited 121 adults from central Europe.
Sixty-four adult participants, ages 18 to 60, completed the study.
Some 81% of respondents were women.
The study used an assessment method known as the “experience sampling method” to better understand how hunger affects people’s emotional life outcomes.
The methodology did not require a control group because the sample size was statistically powerful enough for the study design, Swami told Fox News Digital.
Participants reported their feelings and level of hunger by responding to prompts on a smartphone app to answer brief surveys, which the study sent five times a day on a semi-random basis over a period of time. of three weeks.
“We believe this is the first time that a link to negative emotions has been demonstrated with two different forms of self-reported hunger.”
Research found that hunger was associated with 37% changes in irritability, 34% anger and 38% pleasure after controlling for variables that could influence the study outcome including age, gender , body mass index and eating behavior of the participants. the specified release.
The study did not control for mental health issues or other triggers that may contribute to negative emotions, although it did control for the anger trait, according to Medical News Today, which analyzed the study.
The researchers found that daily fluctuations in hunger as well as residual levels of hunger (measured by averages over a three-week period) were associated with irritability, anger and unpleasantness.
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“We believe this is the first time that a link to negative emotions has been demonstrated with two different forms of self-reported hunger, [suggesting] that the link may be quite robust,” the authors said in their study.
The researchers also measured pleasure and arousal by asking participants, “How enjoyable do you find your current state?” and “What is your current arousal level?”
A “greater awareness of being hungry” may reduce the likelihood that hunger leads to negative emotions and [behaviors] in individuals. »
Participants’ pleasure responses ranged from 0 to 100, from 0 (very unpleasant) to 100 (very pleasant) – while arousal responses ranged from 0 (drowsy) to 100 (strong arousal).
Swami explained that “excitement” relates to physiological arousal or arousal, rather than happiness, which allowed “a more holistic account of participants’ emotionality.”
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But unlike negative emotions such as irritability, anger and unpleasantness, the results were not significantly associated with arousal levels.
“Based on our results, it can be argued that it is the combination of negative states and high arousal that is related to high levels of hunger, rather than arousal per se,” the authors said. .
“It may also help explain why high arousal states, such as anger, in our study showed a significant relationship with self-reported hunger,” the authors said.
Research has noted that certain situations are more likely to lead to anger and irritability than others, such as being alone versus being in a group or working versus having fun. The study is limited because it could not measure the context of these situations.
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The authors suggested that the experience of hunger can be translated into negative emotions through a variety of everyday situations that are perceived negatively, according to Medical News Today.
So hunger may not reflexively lead to negative emotions — but the context in which people experience hunger can influence their emotions and behaviors, according to the medical outlet.
Another limitation of the study was that it assessed anger and irritability as single-item measures; researchers have not been able to fully address the potential subtleties of negative emotional experience.
Research suggests that the ability to label an emotion can help people regulate it.
The researchers also did not measure physiological markers of hunger, such as the participant’s glucose level, noting that such changes can also influence negative emotional states. Due to the small sample size, the study is not generalizable to a diverse population.
“While our study does not present ways to mitigate hunger-induced negative emotions, research suggests that being able to label an emotion can help people regulate it, for example by [recognizing] that we feel angry just because we are hungry,” Swami said in a press release.
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“Therefore, greater awareness of being ‘hungry’ might reduce the likelihood that hunger leads to negative emotions and [behaviors] in individuals. »