Psychology

Lunar Lunacy and other Myths about the Moon



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Long before the legends of werewolves, people believed that the moon affected human behavior.  The lunar effect, sometimes called being moonstruck, has been the subject of a scientific study as well. Our common terms like lunacy come from this long standing belief. Just as the moon affects the ebb and flow of the oceans, many believe that there is a direct correlation between human behavior and the Earth’s closest celestial neighbor - the moon.

The moon cycle and behavior myths

Century old myths about human behavior have been linked to the moon.  Some of these myths speak of good luck, insomnia, births, insanity, and increased criminal activity being linked to the moons phases. Scientists have tried to prove and/or disprove some of these myths and found some interesting results.

For many years, doctors and mothers believed that there were more births during the full moon.  Researchers from a number of respected universities, including Duke, could not find a link, but they did confirm evidence that more babies are born during storms and links this phenomenon to changes in barometric pressure.

The same as with pregnancy and labor moon myths, scientists have found no link between increased crime activity and the full moon. Scientific studies have concluded that there are no links between the moon’s phases in cases of insanity as well.   

Still, in July 2013, the journal Current Biology reported that international scientists had been studying human sleep habits. The scientist found that human beings sleep worse during full moons. The scientists confirmed that a lunar rhythm modulates human sleep. The researchers found that during the full moon, their volunteers took longer to get to sleep, slept less and produce lower amounts of the sleep aiding hormone melatonin.

Theories about moon phases and human behavior

In the 1970s, psychiatrist Arnold Lieber argued that the moon has an effect on the human body (that is similar to its pull on the tides. He based his conclusion on that fact that the human body is made mostly of water, just as the Earth is covered mostly in water. Liever was not the first to believe this. Ancient philosophers and thinkers suggested the brain was affected by the influences of the moon due to its moistness. During the Middle Ages, people spoke of the lunar lunacy or the Transylvania effect. Today, studies show that college students and a majority of mental health professionals believe that the moon phases actually do affect human behavior.

Lieber’s theory was considered wrong for several reasons. Scientists believed that tidal forces to minor to generate affects on brain activity and that tidal influences affect large bodies of water and not smaller sources such as the brain.  

Still, psychologists and psychiatrists are intrigued by the continuing myths about odd behavior and the moon. Many now think that the persistence of these myths is due to a phenomenon called “illusory correlation.” In illusory correlation, memories or recalls linked to co-occurrences and in turn are easier to remember. So, a person may perceive odd events and notice more that the moon is full during the recall.  In essence, selective recall may be the reason so many of the moon behavior myths persist.

Still there may be a morsel of hope for those who believe in lunar lunacy and other moon related behaviors. Psychiatrist Charles L. Raison came up with an interesting explanation which links common sense conclusions to the idea about behavior. In his thinking, Raison explains that in earlier times, when people lived outside, the brighter moons would have affected sleep and in turn, sleep deprivation caused erratic behavior; however, our more modern world full of artificial light would not fall victim to this problem.

Our moon lights the night sky and causes the ocean tides. And, today, human beings still believe that the moon has mystical powers over the human mind and body. While science has yet to prove many of the past claims, many accept that the moon, whether directly or indirectly, affects our behavior. Still, there may be some merit that the moon does influence over us!

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More about this author: Ramona Taylor

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ARTICLE SOURCES AND CITATIONS
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  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://www.latimes.com/news/science/sciencenow/la-sn-full-moon-sleep-20130725,0,2409.story
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200502/full-moon-crazy
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=lunacy-and-the-full-moon