Via: ABC Science
The modern genre of werewolf books, TV series and movies are in complete agreement with the 1941 Hollywood classic film The Wolf Man. Yep, if you are so inclined, the full Moon will turn you into a lunatic werewolf.
Indeed, that rather antiquated word ‘lunacy’ comes from Luna, who was the Roman Goddess of the Moon. One definition of lunacy is “intermittent insanity once believed to be related to phases of the moon”.
This belief goes back a long way. The Roman scientist and military commander, Pliny the Elder, said that because the full Moon causes a very heavy nocturnal dew, it must also make the brain become “unnaturally moist”. That was how, he claimed, the Moon caused both epilepsy and lunacy. He was wrong.
Even so, the belief is still common today. One survey in the USA found that about 40 per cent of the general population, and 80 per cent of mental health professionals, believe that the phase of the Moon affects human behaviour.
And yet, 99+ per cent of the evidence says that the Moon has no effect on human behaviour.
The Moon takes just under a month to run from full (brightest), to half-full, to new (darkest), to half-full and back to full again.
But it’s the full Moon that is claimed to be related to a huge list of human misery, including accidents, alcoholism, anxiety, assaults, calls to crisis telephone numbers, casino activity, depression, domestic violence, drug overdoses and, of course, emergency-room visits.
If that’s not enough, it’s also supposedly responsible for human-made disasters, illegal drug use, kidnappings, murders, natural disasters, prison violence, psychiatric disturbance, psychiatric patient admissions, self-harm, shooting incidents, stabbings, suicides, the amount of food we eat, traffic accidents and so on.
Over the last half-century, thousands of studies have looked at the Moon’s effect upon the behaviours in my little list. Occasionally, one of these studies will show a correlation with the fullness of the Moon. But then the more thorough follow-up studies show absolutely no correlation at all.
Mind you, that’s what the scientific literature shows. That’s quite different from what will appear in your local newspaper, or on your TV. After all, the journalists have a deadline to keep, and a story to manufacture, and they won’t let the facts get in the way.
But there is a place for the lunar effect. You see, in the academic papers, the people studied are in modern societies, and have artificial light at night.
But before artificial lighting, people stayed up later on the full Moon. After all, if the full Moon is hanging in the sky, it’s 250-times brighter than if there’s no moonlight at all.
So, even today, in so-called primitive societies that don’t have artificial lighting at night, a full Moon is the occasion for a party, revelry and a general good time. The fabric of their society is organised around the full Moon. So if there are more people around, then obviously there will be more frequent mishaps.
Definitely, more people around does mean more human activity.
But in our modern technological society, does the Moon make people go mad, does it increase numbers at hospital emergency rooms or does it increase self-harm? Nope, the hard evidence says it doesn’t happen.
One theory that’s been put forward to explain this non-existent lunar-lunacy effect is that the Moon has a huge effect on the tides, which are made of water. Therefore, runs the biological-tides theory, because we are mostly water, the Moon must have an effect on us.
This so-called ‘theory’ is wrong in a few ways.
First, the Moon-tides thing happens because the oceans are large, and made of a liquid. They would still happen if the liquid was freezing liquid hydrogen, room temperature mercury, or hot liquid iron. It doesn’t have to be water.
Second, tides happen only over large expanses, not within the small dimensions of a human body.
Third, the ocean tides still happen if the Moon is full, new or half-full. The Moon still has a gravitational effect even if the Sun doesn’t fully light it up for us.
A better theory to explain it all is selective recall. It’s a busy night, and you look out the window to see that rare animal, the full Moon. You put two and two together to make five, and assume that the full Moon made your night busy.
This belief that the full Moon massively affects human behaviour is a cultural fossil. It’s a memory of the effect that we would party on a full Moon, way back when we had no artificial light.
But in our modern society, it’s just moonshine.