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Why is your spouse cranky for no reason? You'll never guess...

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Study finds spouses with low blood sugar more prone to fights

There’s a new buzzword going around called “hangry,” which combines the words “hungry” and “angry” to describe how intense hunger can make us more susceptible to feeling angry or irritable due to a drop in blood sugar.

Because low blood sugar can bring on feelings of anger and frustration, researchers wanted to take it a step further to find out if being “hangry” could also cause a spouse to become abusive toward their mate.

A research team from Ohio State University therefore launched a study involving married couples, who participated in an experiment that asked them to privately perform the following: 1) stick pins into voodoo dolls representing their spouses; and 2) blast loud and obnoxious noise into the ears of their spouses.

As indicated by the results, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), a connection was found between lower blood sugar and marital fights, suggesting it is possible that being “hangry” could lead to spousal abuse.

Study leader Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University, explained that the experiment was conducted as a way to test the research team’s hypothesis regarding low blood sugar and self-control.

Accordingly, the team had 107 married couples involved in the study monitor their blood sugar levels twice daily using over-the-counter blood glucose monitors to test themselves each morning and night for a period of 21 days.

Then, on every evening of the test period, each spouse was asked to secretly stick needles into voodoo dolls to demonstrate the level of anger they had toward their mate, ranging from a low level of zero to a high of 51.

The researchers also used controls to account for various other factors that could affect the level of anger toward a spouse, such as overall satisfaction with the marital relationship. But even after implementing these controls, the lower a spouse’s blood sugar, the higher the number of pins they stuck in the voodoo dolls – regardless of gender. In other words, it didn’t matter whether the spouse was male or female – they both showed a higher level of anger the lower their blood glucose levels dropped.

The couples were then asked to engage in another experiment. This one involved having them go to Bushman’s lab and being placed in different rooms to play a simple computer game against each other.

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Unbeknownst to each spouse, however, was the fact that the computer game had been rigged so that each spouse was actually playing against the computer, not each other; thus, the results were manipulated to make them both win and lose approximately the same number of rounds.

If one spouse appeared to “win” a round, they could then play a loud and excruciating painful noise as a punishment into the earphones of the “loser” at a volume selected by the “winner”. For example, irritating sounds like fingernails scratching across a chalkboard, combined with obnoxious blows from an air horn, could be played as loud as the volume of a smoke alarm.

Not surprisingly, the spouses with lower blood sugar not only stuck the most pins in the voodoo dolls, but they also were the ones who blasted the most obnoxious sounds.

Therefore, the research team concluded that low blood sugar could play a role in contributing to domestic abuse and violence toward spouses.

Nevertheless, the link between low glucose levels and violence remains a controversial one because there’s another important factor to consider, self-control, not to mention the variety of factors that can deplete it.

For example, one can argue that violence against a spouse has more to do with self-control than low blood sugar levels, while others maintain that being “hangry” due to low blood sugar depletes self-control.

As Bushman put it, “hungry people are cranky people.”

Regardless, Bushman said there are steps you can take when your feeling “hangry”. He advises that couples learn to become conscious during those times when hunger has them feeling more irritable than usual, and then consciously avoid having any potentially contentious discussions during that time.

Put simply, if you're going to talk to your spouse about a conflict, make certain it’s not when you’re hungry.

In order to avoid confrontation when you're "hangry", Bushman also advised foregoing quick sugar rushes from candy bars and other sugar-laden foods because they can cause a rapid rise in blood sugar that then crashes just as fast, resulting in an even higher state of irritability for some people.

SOURCE: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Low glucose relates to greater aggression in married couples, Brad J. Bushman, C. Nathan DeWall, Richard S. Pond, Jr., and Michael D. Hanus; published ahead of print April 14, 2014 (doi:10.1073/pnas.1400619111)