Beyond Being Hangry

No, there is not a typo in the title, being Hangry is a thing. When someone says they are hangry, they are acknowledging the impact that hunger is having on their behavior – and this extends to behavior beyond eating.

Yes being Hangry may lead you to choose a burger and fries over a salad, but it also might lead you to be short with the people who have the misfortune of being in your company at that moment in time!

Being hangry happens when our physiological needs are not met. This has a huge impact on our emotional state which in turn impacts our behavior. While we may be able to recognize being hangry when it happens, when we have had the chance to eat and are feeling full, we actually can no longer imagine or predict the impact being hungry actually has on us. In psychology we call this the hot-cold empathy gap. People are surprisingly bad at predicting how physiological need states like hunger, being sexually aroused, being cold or being tired can have on their decision making process.

The hot-cold empathy gap explains why things like the following can happen:

  • You are feeling particularly down, and you text your ex
  • You went to the store hungry and bought food that didn’t fit your new gluten-dairy free diet
  • You plan on going to the gym every night after work, and never do because you are always exhausted at the end of the day

While the hot-cold empathy gap plays a large part in these experiences, it doesn’t get full credit.  The other piece of the puzzle is we are overly optimistic in our predictions.

We think things like:

  • I have more willpower than to engage with my ex no matter how down I am feeling
  • I am so committed to being healthy, that my commitment will override my hunger
  • I know exercise will give me the additional energy I need, so I will go to the gym even when I am tired

Together the hot-cold empathy gap and the optimism bias make us really bad at predicting our future behaviors. In our industry this has two major implications:

  1. When designing our market research, we know that intention measures are very weak proxies for what people will actually do in the future and so instead of relying on this proxy, we observe actual behavior when we can, and leverage the wisdom of the crowds when we can’t.
  2. When creating our strategy, we know that messaging that puts people in a positive state has a much better chance at promoting the behavior we want consumers to engage in, especially when that behavior really is the rational choice

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