Lashing Out at Your Spouse? Check Your Blood Sugar

Study finds that ‘hangry’ husbands and wives get more aggressive

Lower levels of blood sugar may make married people angrier at their spouses and even more likely to lash out aggressively, new research reveals.

In a 21-day study, researchers found that levels of blood glucose in married people, measured each night, predicted how angry they would be with their spouse that evening.

At the end of the 21 days, people who had generally lower levels of glucose were willing to blast their spouses with unpleasant noises at a higher volume and for a longer time than those who had higher glucose levels.

The study shows how one simple, often overlooked factor – hunger caused by low levels of blood glucose – may play a role in marital arguments, confrontations and possibly even some domestic violence, said Brad Bushman, lead author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University.

Blood glucose levels can be brought up most quickly by eating carbohydrates or sugary foods.

“People can relate to this idea that when they get hungry, they get cranky,” Bushman said.

It even has a slang term: “hangry” (hungry + angry).

“We found that being hangry can affect our behavior in a bad way, even in our most intimate relationships,” he said.

The study, which took three years to complete, appears online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Bushman conducted the research with C. Nathan DeWall of the University of Kentucky; Richard S. Pond of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington; and Michael D. Hanus of Ohio State.

The research involved 107 married couples. The study started with the couples completing a relationship satisfaction measure, which asked each spouse how much they agreed with statements like “I feel satisfied with our relationship.”

The researchers measured anger in a unique way, developed and validated by DeWall in previous studies.

All participants were given a voodoo doll that they were told represented their spouse, along with 51 pins. At the end of each day, for 21 consecutive days, the participants inserted 0 to 51 pins in the doll, depending on how angry they were with their spouse. They did this alone, without their spouses being present, and recorded the number of pins they stuck in the doll.

Each person also used a blood glucose meter to measure glucose levels before breakfast and every evening before bed for the 21 days.

The result: The lower the participants’ evening blood glucose levels, the more pins they stuck in the doll representing their spouse. This association was present even after the researchers took into account the couples’ relationship satisfaction.

“When they had lower blood glucose, they felt angrier and took it out on the dolls representing their spouse,” Bushman said.

“Even those who reported they had good relationships with their spouses were more likely to express anger if their blood glucose levels were lower.”

But it wasn’t just the dolls who took the brunt of the anger. After the 21 days, the couples came into the laboratory to take part in an experimental task.

They were told they would compete with their spouse to see who could press a button faster when a target square turned red on the computer – and the winner on each trial could blast his or her spouse with loud noise through headphones.

In reality, though, they weren’t playing against their spouse – they were playing against a computer that let them win about half the time.

Each time they “won,” the participants decided how loud of a noise they would deliver to their spouse and how long it would last. Their spouses were in separate rooms during the experiment, so participants didn’t know they weren’t really delivering the noise blast.

“Within the ethical limits of the lab, we gave these participants a weapon that they could use to blast their spouse with unpleasant noise,” Bushman said.

Results showed that people with lower average levels of evening glucose sent louder and longer noise to their spouse – even after controlling for relationship satisfaction and differences between men and women.

Further analysis showed that those who stuck more pins in the voodoo doll representing their spouse were more likely to deliver louder and longer noise blasts, as well.

“We found a clear link between aggressive impulses as seen with the dolls and actual aggressive behavior,” he said.

Why does low blood sugar make people more prone to anger and aggression?

Bushman said that glucose is fuel for the brain. The self-control needed to deal with anger and aggressive impulses takes energy, and that energy is provided in part by glucose.

“Even though the brain is only 2 percent of our body weight, it consumes about 20 percent of our calories. It is a very demanding organ when it comes to energy,” he said.

“It’s simple advice but it works: Before you have a difficult conversation with your spouse, make sure you’re not hungry.”

The research was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

15 COMMENTS

  1. WOW this is a new one! who thought sugar could cause so much conflict between spouses? low blood sugar causes a spouse to be angry to the other spouse and they even call being “HANGRY”. the question is how does glucose affect your mind and behaviour? well, we all need the constant rush of sugar in our bloods, but i think this is a bit extreme.

    i really wish i could believe this and i know research has been done by psychologists and other people in the field of pyschological field. but i need more than a study to convince otherwise of these interesting topic.

  2. I AM SPEECHLESS!
    One could never think that an empty stomach can be the cause of so much drama.We do realise that we get a little grumpy especially when we hungry but neverhad i thought that low levels of glucose in my bloodstream can actually be the cause of a person’s aggresive behaviour.

    This article has just made me realise the importance of a healthy diet that many of us do not folllow.It certainly is mind blowing and somewhat sad to see the consequences of our neglection to follow a healthy diet, that because of our actions many of our relationships may fail because of something we originally thought we had no contriol over ,but as science has illustrated we actually have full control of.

    In the past we usually checked our glucose levels in order to be able to detect and prevent any serious health conditions such as diabetes, but it seems now we have an added reason to regularly have our glucose levels checked, especially if something that may seems so insignificant as checking glucose levels may in the long run help decrease an issue that is prevalent in our society, This being the issuse of domestic violence then so be it.

  3. This is a very interesting topic on something that most people know but neglect. It just shows that living healthy balanced life also means living a more peaceful and less stressful life.

  4. Well it’s no secret that being hungry makes one grumpy and irritated but only now we realize how having low blood sugar can seriously influence our relationships.Lasing out at your spouse because of something as simple as low blood sugar seems ludicrous.In the contex of this experiment factors like financial-stress,job-security and work-stress shold not be left unaccounted for.Still,after reading this article people should realize the negative effects of low blood sugar,do something about to prevent this issue and as a result hopefully have a better relationship with their spouses and in a whole their families.

  5. The fact that blood sugar levels can affect your anger levels is very fascinating. Many people have actually done studies in this area and it seems very plausible. In 2010, psychologist Brad Bushman of Ohio State University, Columbus, endeavoured to figure out just what the role of blood sugar is. His studies suggested that higher glucose levels can make strangers less likely to treat each other aggressively. The question is, were these studies worth all the time and money? Not exactly. This study has proven what many people already know through living. It certainly isn’t news to me that hungry people are somewhat cranky. While hunger can, and does, make us cranky, we are humans and humans should make the right choices.

    Much of our daily lives are influenced by what we eat. Either too much sugar, or too much meat, or too much of anything can influence the way we feel and act during the day. Therefore, it is important for people to make sure that they eat the right combination of foods

  6. This article strongly supports the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle. Ensuring that one gets the required daily nutrients, would help one in maintaining a relatively constant blood sugar level. From this article we see the effects of inadequate eating habits, how they not only affect one’s health but one’s personal life as well.
    The study conducted in this experiment is extremely interesting, as it proposes a very serious problem in a very unique and unconventional manner. Low blood sugar levels stem from having an imbalanced diet and this leads a person to eating at random times and they usually eat unhealthy food to rid themselves of this feeling of aggressiveness and irritability. Although this may temporarily rid them of the unwanted emotions, it usually develops into various lifestyle diseases such as diabetes later in their lives.
    The fact that low blood sugar levels lead to increased marital arguments and even possibly domestic violence is something that can very easily be combated by simply following a healthy lifestyle. As, parents need to understand that such type of aggression in a household has immense effects on children within that family. In many cases these ‘domestic quarrels’ result in children growing up with several emotional problems; the main one being them unable to form stable and long-lasting relationships in their own future.

  7. This is something that I can personally relate to. I do get angry when I am hungry. I am quite surprised to hear that the brain consumes 20 per cent of all the calories we consume. I presume then, that too much calories can also be a problem? A related question that this blog raises is how single people respond to low blood sugar levels. How do they manifest their anger?

    However, the use of a voodoo doll to represent the spouse in the experiment is problematic. I am of the opinion that people will be more inclined to moderate their response in a real-life situation. A response could be the result of a variety of causes. Unless one can control for the other causes, correlation may be mistakenly construed as causation. The results of the study also imply that there is much more spousal abuse in poor communities. I doubt that this is indeed the case. In our modern society, frustration and anger may be more the result of not getting what you desire rather than hunger.

  8. This is such an interesting topic to read about. At times it really happens that we may overlook matters, such as hunger, which may seem insignificant in causing quarrels between couples, but indeed it is such issues that have to be dealt with at a foundation level. With my personal experience I become very moody when I am hungry which makes me to get easily annoyed than usual, thus dealing with my hunger before being involved with people would put me at a lower risk of anger problems.

    This topic can also be related to “Technological Imperative”, one of the Biomedical Model topics which is used by physicians in diagnosis of disease, this model highlights that physicians shouldn’t overemphasise the treatment of an illness eg. patients with say a minor headache shouldn’t undergo a brain surgery whereas the headache could be cured by just a painkiller…

    Thus taking care of the simple factors may positively impact more complex issues.

  9. This article is a real eye opener for some people. From personal experience I can verify this study to be partly true. My sister is a bit overweight, and when she can not get something to “munch” (as she calls it), everyone in our house is at fault for finishing it before she could have some. The only difference that I have seen is this ‘hanger’ later evolves to depression. Some times she would be looking for something to eat, and if she could not find it she would start crying.

    This was a real concern for our family because small things would set her off. we then started having a huge supply of her favourite foods in order to keep her happy. She picked up more weight, which in turn made her angrier at us! All in all we got her the help she needed and we are all happier. We discovered she suffered from low blood sugar. This actually helped us get the right types of food, and control her intake.

    My mother is a strong believer that no one can leave the house if they have not had a wholesome breakfast. this knowledge is now ingraved in our minds, therefor we lead happier, and fuller lives.

  10. It is fascinating to read these discoveries made by scientists and researchers. What interests me most is the creative experiments used to obtain these results. I think this study reflects valuable information. However I do not think that one’s blood sugar levels are to blame for each fight in a relationship.

    The brain, in the above post, is said to be one of the most demanding organs in terms of energy usage. Keeping that in mind, I believe our brain is also smart enough to make an individual decide to walk away and fetch some sugar when irritation or anger approaches.

    If low blood sugar levels promote aggression in an individual and have a negative effect on married couples, what effect will high blood sugar levels have on a relationship?

  11. This article is extremely interesting and I find it incredibly helpful. I’ve always known that spikes in blood sugar levels contribute to mood swings due to personal reasons but low blood sugar levels contributing to a more likelihood of fights in a relationship is fascinating. It makes complete sense for hungry people to be cranky but I don’t think a lot of people make the connection between being hungry and low blood sugar levels. I feel these studies can be very helpful to use for educational purposes to encourage more successful relationships and even help decrease divorce rates or even decrease friction between other family members or other relationships. By understanding little glitches like this in a relationship many people could benefit from more fulfilling relationships and live happier lives.

  12. Low blood sugar and the bad moods that come with it do not only impact couples but whole families as well. Understanding that the anger and aggression a person is experiencing could be as a result of low blood sugar may help them calm down and eliminate these feelings by raising their blood glucose levels. As a result of understanding that they become easily angered or aggressive when hungry , they could eliminate or at least control this behavior by keeping their blood sugar level constant instead of letting it fluctuate.This could improve family or spousal relationships and maybe even eliminate or reduce abuse.

  13. I could’nt agree more with what has been said. Even on a normal day to day basis, we happen to come across people who are angry, stressed and weak only because of lowered blood sugar level

    It somehow changes who you are, thus supporting the statement of lashing at your spouses. With that being said, maybe there is a way to learn to be calm and not prone to anger, but just eating sweets. Hopefully the sugar level will rise instantly and hangry will be limited. Just a thought.

  14. I definitely agree with this research due to the fact that I have personal experience with this subject. More than once my brother lost his temper because he was hungry, this often resulted in the abuse of a wall or tree. It was also noticeable how short his patience was; the smallest thing, that wouldn’t normally have bothered even a short tempered person, caused him rage. He always apologized after he had eaten, realizing that he was just hungry and didn’t mean what he said or did. Due to the brain having reduced amounts of energy to use its self control, basic instinct comes into play. It is an animal instinct which we also have to a small degree. Predators often are very protective over their food and will most likely try to kill any animal that comes close to its food. When we are hungry our protective and edginess acts up and more often than not, offence is taken over something insignificant. This relates to how spouses lash out at each other, the same way a predator will lash out at something which comes close to it, we lash out at the people closest to us.

  15. This is a very interresting article about the relationship between blood glucose levels and anger levels. Blood glucose levels can be brought up by eating carbohydrates and sugary foods, but the effect of too much sugar and carbohydrates (that cause a spike in blood glucose levels and then a rapid drop) may also cause mood swings. ( According to healthline (2014)).

    According to nutrition expert Patric Holford (2012), the use of Chromium as a suppliment can also be used to stabalise blood glucose levels, so anger related to low blood glucose levels can also be managed if rapid spikes and drops in blood glucose levels can be avoided.

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