You ever just have one of those days where everyone around you seems to act a little …funky? A guy in a massive truck runs a red light and almost t-bones you, then beeps like it’s your fault. You run to the store for some toilet paper and there are 16 angry parents in front of you all buying diapers and Pedialyte. Then as you stand, helpless and lonely in the line at CVS, a woman turns to you and says “Must be the full moon.” Then she tilts her head back and howls; “Aroooooooooooo!”
Okay, so maybe you’re not familiar with that exact scenario, but you get the idea. Everyone from school teachers to police officers is pretty quick to put the blame of societal behavior on the full moon. But does the old saying hold any weight? Does the full moon have any measurable effect on our brains?
Logically we want to say yes. The adult human body is about 60% water and if we think back to 3rd-grade science class we know the moon can affect water (it’s the reason we have tides 😉, shoutout to Mrs. Upchurch).
In reality, the moon’s gravitational pull on our bodies is negligible. In fact, a mosquito sitting on your arm exerts a stronger gravitational pull on you than the moon does. We also have to consider that the gravitational pull of the moon is just as strong during a new moon. The only difference is the moon is invisible to us, hidden by the sun’s glare.
So what’s the deal? Where does this lunar lunacy come from? How does the moon affect our behaviors? The truth is as far as we can tell, it doesn’t. A meta-analysis of over 30 studies found that full moons are entirely unrelated to a whole host of events, including crimes, suicides, psychiatric problems and crisis center calls.
Well then, why did that woman howl at me in CVS? Okay, maybe she didn’t actually howl. But why are humans so convinced that the full moon is responsible for chaos?
There are a few trains of thought here. Historically, the full moon actually may have caused a little bit of mayhem. Not because of the water in our bodies, but from the full moon’s bright light.
Before artificial lighting, a bright night sky may have prevented people from getting a full night’s sleep, which we know can bring on a whole host of medical issues, including impaired judgment and paranoia. Some historians believe people may have even left their homes and conjugated during a full moon, furthering the chances of disorder.
Remember our article about rain on the brain? Chaos during a full moon is another example of our response to a culturally transmitted idea. Think about it, if something weird happens to you on a full moon, you probably tell people about it and remember it better than if nothing happened. This gets repeated over and over throughout society and creates a cognitive bias. Our brains are predisposed to seeing these patterns, even when they don’t exist.
So the next time someone says “must be a full moon”, you have two choices. You could calmly explain how a meta-analysis of dozens of studies shows no scientific causation between the phases of the moon and an increase in societal disorder. Or you could throw your head back and let out a howl. The choice is yours 😜.
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