The familiar concept of “full-moon madness” is being examined in the harsh light of day by a number of scientists who now are concluding it’s mostly … well, lunacy.
Essentially, the scientists say the condition is a psychological urban legend, according to an article in the new issue of Scientific American. But if it’s just a legend, why is it so widespread?
- Media coverage almost surely plays a role. Scores of Hollywood horror flicks portray full-moon nights as peak times of spooky occurrences such as stabbings, shootings and psychotic behaviors.
- Perhaps more important, research demonstrates that many people fall prey to “illusory correlation” ~ the perception of an association that does not in fact exist. For example, many people who have joint pain insist that their pain increases during rainy weather, although research disconfirms this assertion. Much like the watery mirages we observe on freeways during hot summer days, illusory correlations can fool us into perceiving phenomena in their absence.
As for how the full-moon notion got started, the article quotes psychiatrist Charles Raison of Emory University:
According to Raison, the lunar lunacy effect may possess a small kernel of truth in that it may once have been genuine. Raison conjectures that before the advent of outdoor lighting in modern times, the bright light of the full moon deprived people who were living outside ~ including many who had severe mental disorders ~ of sleep. Because sleep deprivation often triggers erratic behavior in people with certain psychological conditions, such as bipolar disorder (formerly called manic depression), the full moon may have been linked to a heightened rate of bizarre behaviors in long-bygone eras. So the lunar lunacy effect is, in Raison and his colleagues’ terms, a “cultural fossil.”
Click here to read the complete Scientific American article.