Study finds new recipe for domestic harmony: food

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Have you ever felt “hangry?” That’s new lingo for when you’re so hungry you feel angry or irritable until you fill your belly.

Scientists have known this kind of hunger-induced anger can be caused by low blood sugar. But researchers from Ohio State University wanted to better understand the connection between glucose and aggression, and whether blood sugar-induced anger would flare up between couples, even happy couples.

“Self-control of aggressive impulses requires energy, and much of this energy is provided by glucose derived from the food we eat,” lead study author Brad Bushman says.

"Aggression often starts when self-control stops," he says.

To find out, researchers measured glucose levels in 107 married couples over 21 days. And they gave each participant a voodoo doll and 51 pins.

Yes, a voodoo doll.

"We told the participants this doll represented their spouse," Bushman says. "And that every night before they went to bed they should stab the doll with pins depending on how angry they were with their spouse. So the more pins they put in the doll, the angrier they were with their spouse."

After three weeks, Bushman and his team assessed the damage done to each doll.

They found that volunteers who had low levels of blood glucose stuck more pins in the voodoo dolls than those who had high levels of blood glucose, NPR reports. 

The study, reported Monday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also found people with the lowest blood sugar levels stuck more than twice as many pins in the voodoo dolls, compared to people with the highest levels.


But the couples went even further than just sticking pins into voodoo dolls. Researchers asked each husband and wife to compete against each other in a virtual game.

The couples were told the winner got to blast the loser with a loud, obnoxious noise.

"The noise is a mixture of noises that most people hate, like fingernails scratching on chalkboards, dentist drills, sirens," Bushman says.

And researchers measured how long and how intense the winner chose to blast the noise, and compared that aggression level to their average blood sugar level.

Again, the results showed people with lower blood sugar were more aggressive – both in "pinning" their voodoo doll and in blasting their partner with noise for longer.

These findings remained true even after researchers controlled the data for relationship satisfaction, CNN reports. 

"Regardless of how good somebody's relationship is, when they're hungry, they're more angry, and they stuck more pins in the doll," Bushman says. "And they were more aggressive by giving their partner louder and longer blasts of noise."

The study findings suggest that eating at key times could reduce conflict.

For more domestic harmony, Bushman says couples should discuss important topics over food.

"I would recommend couples discuss sensitive issues over dinner," Bushman said. "Or better yet, after dinner."

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