BY ELIZABETH MILLARD
Ever feel you’re not quite forceful enough when you need to get your voice heard? Switching up your plate might remove some of your mellow, new research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology suggests.
That’s because spicy foods might increase aggression, the researchers found— and that even the thought of the hot dishes can make some people feel more confrontational.
In their study, researchers asked participants what type of food would be best for a meeting in which aggressiveness would be helpful—say, when you need to avoid getting steamrolled by a pushy colleague. Nearly 20 percent responded that hot and spicy food would do the trick, compared to only 5 percent who felt the same about mild food.
Then, they examined previous experiments on the topic. In one, participants felt increasingly hostile when exposed to words related to spiciness, like “hot.” In another, men with higher levels of salivary testosterone—a hormone associated with aggressive behavior—reported a preference for spicy food.
Spicy foods contain higher levels of capsaicin, the researchers noted. The ingredient has been shown to produce discomfort, irritation, and even pain. They hypothesised that this might trigger aggressive thoughts.
The breadth of studies suggests that it’s not solely the ingestion of spicy food itself—a bottle of hot sauce isn’t an invitation to a fist fight—but the association that people tend to have with this type of food.
Basically, if you think something is going to make you more aggressive, then you’re right, because you’re telling your brain to have that reaction, the researchers suggest.
Still, more research needs to be done to further explore the connections between hot food and hot tempers.
Now, there are some instances where it pays to be more forceful—say, to get your ideas heard in a dismissive meeting—but actual aggression in other situations can be a bad thing. So if you simply feel a little more edgy after eating something spicy and want to dial it down, there’s no harm in trying to bland it up a bit. But if you are having a problem with anger, hostility, or aggression you can’t control, that’s something to bring up with your doctor, not try to fix by yourself.