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Can the Full Moon influence human behavior? The so-called lunar effect.

Updated on October 29, 2015
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Belief that the full moon effects our behavior. Ask anyone around you and you’ll find most people believe the moon has some kind of far reaching influence on our lives. It’s uncanny how many professionals, police, emergency room Dr’s, mental health workers, and the like seem to attribute bizarre events and a flurry of activity with the phase of the moon. Mankind has a long history and fascination with the Moon. A glimpse of earlier beliefs and myths around the Moon helps in our understanding of how that perspective (Luna effect) progressed through time and why the moon still evokes mysteries that prevail to this day.

Ever since early Man has been able to glance up at the sky and contemplate the existence of the Moon and the heavens, he has been imbued with feelings of awe-inspiring wonderment. With ethereal feelings of mysticism and spirituality we see how they would assimilate stories and associate them to the mysteries of the heavens. These mysteries would become the legends and mythologies that gave them a sense of purpose in their lives and the expectations of the world they lived in.

Influence of the god(s)

In Rome the Goddess of the moon was called Luna, the Greeks had their God(s) also, all and all there was a plethora of deities ascribed to the moon in numerous societies. The spirituality they gleaned from worshiping infused them with a sense of connectedness with their brethren, and instilled meaning and purpose in their lives. And if you think about it, it properly wasn't much different than the feelings, people feel, when attending religious services today. Feeling a sense of connectedness and spiritual fulfillment. Most prominent, we see how one's behavior was characterized by their belief and the influence they assigned to the moon. It's no surprise that we too have feelings about the Moons influence on our lives today, especially in light of the fact that the Moon has played such a role in our lives throughout history.

Furthermore, we see, starting back in earlier times that there is also a magical aspect to the belief of the moons influences. Talisman. Good luck charms in the shape of the moon became popular throughout the ages.In Roman times, to have a healthy baby, women wore silver crescent moons on their shoes.Charms and Amulets, in the shape of a crescent moon, were used to protect you from the evil eye and witchcraft. Also wearing a crescent moon was thought to bring you wealth and prosperity. As we shall see, that influence and mysticism still invokes feelings to this day. A little different yes, but feelings the "Lunar Effect" is real, non-the-less.

For thousands of years Mankind has been comforted by the moon, it has been the calendar in the sky, a compass to show direction, and a source of spiritual beliefs. A beacon of light that eases fears and anxieties. We humans have had a long and close association with the moon, though not always comforting. On the other side of the coin; call it the dark side of the moon if you like, A bewitching facet that infused dark and ominous feelings.

Spooky action at a distance

The legend of the werewolf is well known. Lycanthropy comes from the Greek, King Lycaon was transmogrified into a wolf for playing a trick on Zeus.

“ A werewolf is an animal from folklore which can change from human to wolf and back again and is believed to consume human flesh or blood. (Wer is an Old English term for man.) While there are no documented cases of any human turning into a wolf and back, there are documented cases of humans who believed they were werewolves." To suffer from such a delusion is known as lycanthropy.” Excerpt from the skeptics dictionary


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The folklore of the werewolf played out in all cultures and interestingly was always associated with the full moon, no matter where they originated. Werewolves were widely believed in, back in, the Middle ages.

Another frightening myth about the full moon is that it kindles madness. The word “lunacy” meaning “insanity” comes from the Latin word for “moon”. The belief that the full moon causes mental disorders and strange behavior was widespread throughout Europe, we even have many examples of people harboring those same beliefs today.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Stevenson, was inspired by the strange and yet true case of Charles Hyde, a London man who committed a series of murders at the time of the full moon. Charles Hyde was acquitted on murder charges on the grounds he was under the spell of the full moon. Source on “Charles Hyde”

Early psychologist had no doubt that the full moon influenced human behavior, especially on those who were mentally ill. They were so sure of it’s effects that extra staff were called into the asylums during a full moon and in many cases they would even shackle and confine patients that they felt would or could be injurious to themselves or others. Even today we see people from all races and cultures that feel some kind of “Luna effect” is real.

Our species has had a rather intriguing history revolving around the moon. The myths, legends, and folklore have been a source of solace and alleviation of our fears and burdens. On the other side, we see emotional, distressful, and frightening times that were anxiety provoking. Needless-to-say it’s not surprising we find ourselves feeling a romance of sorts with the moon. Such a big part of our history, going back a myriad of generations, maybe we share a kind of camaraderie. Then again, there is no simple and easy answer to questions of belief in the “lunar effect”. Even though the majority of published literature, both classic and contemporary, rejects the cause and effect influence of the lunar cycle.

Hidden Influences

If the full moon could influence people's behavior, as some believe, it raises the question, how? Thinking about that, there’s a couple of possible scenarios that could be plausible, let's see how they unfold.

Gravity: everyone knows the gravitational influence of the Moon causes the motion of the tides and the fact we humans are 65% water, it therefor seems reasonable we would experience some effect. But in fact, when the calculations are done and we look at how much force is exerted upon us, we find there’s an minuscule amount, it’s pretty thin. Factors for gravitational force all have to do with the size of the two objects and the distance between them. Two masses are gravitationally attracted to each other, but the amount of mass and the distance between them will determine how much of a force there is. A mother holding her baby would exert a force many times larger on her baby than the moon ever could. Also the tides occur twice daily, not just on the full moon. Hence, we have a force from the moon interacting with the oceans on a daily basis. That being the case we should see our behavior being influenced daily. Suffice it to say, we can conclude that any effect is negligible in terms of it’s influence on human behavior.


Moon and Behavior

There are those who postulate the idea that moonlight could be an influencing factor. This seems to be a little bit of a stretch when you consider, the daytime effects, the lights in our homes blot out the moons light, the ambient light from cities makes the moon obscure and so on. We humans are blinded by so much light pollution it seems rather silly to think the Moons light would penetrate and have some kind of effect.

The aesthetic value of the full moon is clearly awesome, it’s beautiful and awe-inspiring. But it properly doesn’t have any influence on our behavior.

“ So how do we explain all those cops and emergency room nurses who believe in the lunar effect? Easy. Nobody notices when there's a full moon and nothing happens — you only notice when something does happen.In other words, heads I win, tails don't count. Case closed." From "The Straight Dope"

The facts speak for themself

Even though there has been countless studies over the years (showing no correlation) you still have some who point to the fact that there have been a few studies that contradict the findings. Here’s an argument to think about, ninety nine doctors out of one hundred say you are sick and one says no worries your fine, who are you going to believe, would you consider, just maybe, that the one doctor with the favorable diagnosis could have data that is flawed and biased or not properly interpreted. Another scenario, ninety nine building inspectors say your building is unsafe and in danger of collapse, yet, one inspector assures you everything is structurally sound, are you really going to feel safe and secure spending time in said building ? We humans fall prey to what they call "confirmation bias" and when we hear something that agrees with what we think is correct we latch on to that and never look at the whole picture and see things for what they are.

The majority of all the studies show no correlation for the “Lunar effect” and are all based on good scientific data. The data over the years has been scrutinize, compared and analyzed, bottom line, there is no lunar effect on human behavior. This question has been sufficiently studied and the conclusion is very firm.


"...spooky effects have been ascribed to the phases of the moon....But when the statistics are redone properly, the correlation with lunar phase always evaporates....Yet many sensible people—including police officers and emergency room staff—continue to believe otherwise." -- Steven Strogatz

“12 studies are reviewed that have examined the relationships among crisis calls to police stations, poison centers, and crisis intervention centers and the synodic lunar cycle. On the basis of the studies considered it is concluded that no good foundation exists for the belief that lunar phase is related to the frequency of crisis calls. In addition, there is no evidence whatsoever for the contention that calls of a more emotional or “out-of- control” nature occur more often at the full moon.” Here

Below is a list of data points, it’s not a complete list, but more than enough to ponder over. You'll notice there have been thousands of studies over the years and the evidence is overwhelming - there is no LUNAR EFFECT on human behavior. Don't take my word on this, read the facts and then do some of your own research.

You can't deny the facts

  • 58,527 police arrests in a 7-year period: no difference in the number of arrests made during any phase of the moon.

  • Reference: Antisocial behavior and lunar activity: a failure to validate the lunacy myth (1977)

  • 361,580 calls for police assistance in a 3-year period: calls had no relationship to the phase of the moon when the day of the week, holiday and year were controlled.

  • Reference: Perceptual and Motor Skills, 57:993-994, 1983.

  • 1,289 aggressive "incidents" by hospitalized psychiatric patients in a 105-week period: no significant relationship between the severity or amount of violence/aggression and phase of the moon.

  • Reference: Lunar cycles and violent behaviour (1998)

  • The rate of agitation in 24 nursing home residents in a 3-month period: no significant relationship of agitation to moon phase.

  • Reference: Full moon: Does it influence agitated nursing home residents? (1989)

  • The number of aggressive offenses (fighting, threatening or assaulting an officer, creating a disturbance) for 1,300 male inmates in a medium security prison in a one year period: no significant relationship between agressive offenses and moon phase.

  • Reference: Full moon: Aggression in a prison setting as a function of lunar phases. (1998)

  • 1,329 assaults in four prisons in a 2-year period: no difference in the number of assaults on full moon and non-full moon days.

  • Reference: Atlas, R., Violence in prison. Environmental influences, Enviro. Beh., 16:275-306, 1984.

  • 2,017 homicides in a 3-year period: no relationship between the number of homicides and the phase of the moon.

  • Reference: Porkorny, A.D., Moon phases, suicide, and homicide, Am. J. Psychiatry, 121:66-67, 1964

  • 20,500 homicides in the United States in a 1-year period: no relationship between the number of homicides and the phase of the moon.

  • Reference: Temporal variation in suicide and homicide (1979)

  • 1,840 incidences of "acting-out" in people in a psychiatric treatment facility in a 3-year period: no relationship between the number of acting-out incidences and the phase of the moon.

  • Reference: Lunar phase and acting-out behavior (1986)

    Anxiety, Depression and Psychosis

  • 782 patient records and 4,600 consultations in an 18-year period: no relationship between the phase of the moon and the number of times people contacted their doctors for anxiety or depression.

  • Reference: Lunar cycle and consultations for anxiety and depression in general practice. (1997)

  • 18,495 records from patients admitted to a psychiatric hospital in an 11-year period: admissions for psychosis were highest during the new moon and lowest during the full moon.

  • Reference: Lunar madness: an empirical study (1977)

  • 25,568 psychiatric emergency room visits in a 13-year period: visits increased near the first quarter moon and a decreased around the new moon and full moon.

  • Reference: Human aggression and the lunar synodic cycle (1978)

  • 8,473 psychiatric admissions in a 9-year period and 1,909 emergency psychiatric evaluations in a 1-year period: no relationship between admissions or evaluations and the phase of the moon.

  • Reference: No effect of lunar cycle on psychiatric admissions or emergency evaluations (2006)

  • The average number of contacts with psychiatric services over a 10-year period: no relationship between contacts and phase of the moon.

  • Reference: Frequency of contact with community- based psychiatric services and the lunar cycle: a 10- year case-register study (1997)

  • 559 patients (ages 4-21 years old) who visited a pediatric psychiatric emergency department over a 3- year period: no statistical significance in the number of pediatric patient visits during a full moon and a non- full moon dates.

  • Reference: Pediatric Psychiatric Emergency Department Visits During a Full Moon (2014)

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    • profile image

      Keri 15 months ago

      Nice! Very interesting and informative.

    • Bru Swan profile image
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      Bruce Swanson 21 months ago from Beverly

      Thanks. The comparison about the moon landing conspiracy might be a little much, but I do agree many credulous people out there. The sad part is if they took a few moments and really looked at the facts, beliefs would fall in line with what is real.

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      John 21 months ago

      Bruce, great job. It was very clear and easy to understand. Yes, I agree with all of it, the moon doesn't effect our behavior. It's pretty sad how many people like to believe it does, so many out there need some wierdness to cling on to. It's like the moon landing conspiracy so many have jumped on to that train. Anyway good read.