New research shows that blood sugar levels can predict whether a married couple will argue with each other, illuminating an overlooked factor of marital confrontations and domestic violence.
Although "hangry" is often thrown around as a playful slang, the new findings show that the portmanteau isn’t always a joke. "We found that being hangry can affect our behavior in a bad way, even in our most intimate relationships," said Dr. Brad Bushman, a professor of communications and psychology at Ohio State University and lead author of the new study.
To investigate the effects of low blood glucose on marital bliss, Bushman and colleagues enrolled 107 married couples in a 21-day experiment. Participants were asked to rate their satisfaction with the marriage, responding to statements like “I feel satisfied with our relationship.” Each spouse was then given a voodoo doll and asked to insert zero to 51 pins in it each night depending on how angry they were with their significant other. At the end of the experiment, the researchers assessed each participant’s anger in relation to daily blood glucose levels.
The results, which are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that people with low blood sugar are significantly more likely to be angry with their spouse compared to people with average blood sugar levels. The lower the participant’s evening blood sugar levels, the more pins they stuck in their voodoo doll. Notably, couples who reported great satisfaction with the marriage exhibited the same tendency.
"When they had lower blood glucose, they felt angrier and took it out on the dolls representing their spouse," Bushman said in a press release. "Even those who reported they had good relationships with their spouses were more likely to express anger if their blood glucose levels were lower."
This was later confirmed by an additional experiment, in which participants were asked to play a computer game testing how fast the player could press a button in response to on-screen cues. Although the participants competed against a computer programmed to win about 50 percent of the time, they were led to believe that they were playing their spouse, who was sitting in an adjacent room. Each time they won, they were given the opportunity to blast their significant other with loud noises.
Unsurprisingly, participants with low blood sugar levels were more likely to give their spouse longer and louder noises — however, the noises weren’t actually delivered through the spouse’s headphones, Bushman assures.
The authors believe that the new findings will help couples work out arguments in a more sensible manner. The remedy, they add, shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. "It's simple advice but it works: Before you have a difficult conversation with your spouse, make sure you're not hungry," Bushman told reporters.