Psychology Melbourne Blog

News and Insights from the Science of the Mind

Hunger feeds marital discord

Edited by Jill Wright,

A study that looked at the effect of low blood sugar on aggression in marriage must have been quite a hoot: it measured glucose levels in 107 married couples over 21 days and compared the effect of lower levels - essentially the effect of being hungry - on the relationship ... using voodoo dolls and headphones.

The participants were told the voodoo dolls represented their spouses, and each night, they were asked to stick from zero to 51 pins into the doll, depending on how angry they were with their partners.

They also got to blast the unfortunate spouse with loud noise through headphones. 

The angrier they were, the more punctures in the dolls, and the louder and longer the noise blasts.

In his Daily Brain blog, science writer David DiSalvo reports that the researchers started with the hypothesis that drops in blood sugar would correlate with higher aggression, and at the end of the 21 days, it proved to be correct.

Lead study author Brad Bushman, professor of psychology and communication at Ohio State University, pointed out that although the human brain is only 2 per cent of our body weight, it consumes about 20 per cent of our calories, and when it's short on energy, self-control drops.

Bushman's advice the couples is worth following: "Before you have a difficult conversation with your spouse, make sure you're not hungry."

That's something that I often bring to the attention of people in couples counselling. 

DiSalvo suggests that it might be helpful too, to look at the sort of foods we eat. "Shovelling in foods that cause our blood sugar levels to spike and crash day after day may also trigger spousal (and other) explosions."

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About the editor, Jill Wright

Jill Wright (MAPS, AAFT, AICD) is the Director and Principal Psychologist at Psychology Melbourne. Jill was twice elected General Director of the Australian Psychological Society and established the Study Group Network. Find out more about Jill Wright.