Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hungry married people show voodoo-doll aggression

If you stick a pin in a voodoo doll representing someone you know — your spouse, for example — that person will experience pain in precisely the same place, according to those who believe in this form of magic. Scientists take a more skeptical view of voodoo, but one researcher at Ohio State University has found voodoo dolls very helpful in determining how much more hostile and aggressive married people become when they're hungry.

Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at OSU, calls this condition being "hangry" (hungry + angry), and he determined that hangry people stick more pins in a voodoo doll of their spouse than those who have higher levels of glucose in their blood.

"People can relate to this idea that when they get hungry, they get cranky," he said in a statement when his paper was published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "We found that being hangry can affect our behavior in a bad way, even in our most intimate relationships."

Bushman and his colleagues measured blood glucose levels of 107 married couples in the morning before breakfast and in the evening before bedtime for 21 consecutive days, and discovered that low levels predicted greater anger.

They determined this by giving all the participants a voodoo doll representing their spouse at the start of the experiment. They also gave each participant 51 pins. At the end of each day during the experiment, participants were invited to stick pins in the doll to represent how angry they felt toward their spouse.

In general, participants with lower blood glucose levels felt angrier and stuck more pins into their voodoo dolls.

"Even those who reported they had good relationships with their spouses were more likely to express anger if their blood glucose levels were lower," Bushman said.

The participants also competed with their spouse in a computer game that tested which of them could press a button faster when a target square on the screen turned red. Winners got to blast their spouses, seated out of sight, with a loud noised delivered through headphones.

The participants weren't really playing against their spouses. They were playing against the computer, which let them win about half the time, and the blast of noise they delivered never reached the ears of their spouses.

Still, the results showed that participants with lower levels of blood glucose, including those who claimed their marriages were satisfying overall, sent louder and longer blasts of noise to their spouses.

Also, those who stuck larger numbers of pins into the voodoo doll representing their spouse also tended to deliver louder and longer blasts of noise.

What does the level of glucose in a person's blood have to do with irritability and aggression?

Bushman suggests that the hostility and aggression that erupt in many marriages represent a failure of impulse control. The brain, which inhibits behavior, consumes huge amounts of glucose, so when glucose levels drop, the brain has less energy available to control behavior.

"Even though the brain is only 2 percent of our body weight, it consumes about 20 percent of our calories," Bushman said. "It is a very demanding organ when it comes to energy. So before you have a difficult conversation with your spouse, make sure you're not hungry."

Tom Valeo writes on health matters. Email him at

Hungry married people show voodoo-doll aggression 05/26/14 [Last modified: Monday, May 26, 2014 7:28pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. LaVar Ball appears at WWE event, son LaMelo uses slur


    LOS ANGELES  -- LaVar Ball has brought his Big Baller Brand from the basketball court to the wrestling ring. 
    The outspoken father of NBA Draft No. 2 pick Lonzo Ball showed up with the newly-minted Los Angeles Laker and another son, 15-year-old son LaMelo, for a live segment on Monday's "WWE …

    LaVar Ball took off his shirt during a WWE broadcast.
  2. Facing defections, Senate GOP leaders delay health care vote


    WASHINGTON — In a bruising setback, Senate Republican leaders are delaying a vote on their prized health care bill until after the July 4 recess, forced to retreat by a GOP rebellion that left them lacking enough votes to even begin debating the legislation, two sources said Tuesday.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., center, talks with his chief of staff Sharon Soderstrom, right, and communications staff director Antonia Ferrier, left, as they walk to his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, June 26, 2017. Senate Republicans unveil a revised health care bill in hopes of securing support from wavering GOP lawmakers, including one who calls the drive to whip his party's bill through the Senate this week "a little offensive." [Associated Press]
  3. U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and estranged wife Carole put Beach Drive condo on the market

    Real Estate

    ST. PETERSBURG — U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and his estranged wife, Carole, have put their Beach Drive condo on the market for $1.5 million.

    Former Florida Gov. and current U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and his estranged wife, Carole, have put their condo in downtown St. Petersburg on the market for $1.5 million. [Courtesy of Rhonda Sanderford]
  4. Florida man sits in jail 90 days when drywall powder is mistaken for cocaine (w/video)


    OVIEDO — A Florida man spent 90 days in jail after police officers who stopped him for driving without headlights said white powder found in his car was cocaine.

    Karlos Cashe spent 90 days in jail after Oviedo police officers who stopped him for driving without headlights said white powder found in his car was cocaine. But he walked out of jail last week after lab results determined the powder in the handyman's car was actually drywall. [Photo from video] 

  5. Cal Foote said it's 'starting to feel more real'


    Cal Foote was picked 14th overall by the Lightning in the NHL Draft.