Lunacy

I used to write Monster Mythbusting columns for Dark Moon Digest. They changed formats a little while ago which meant my last column didn’t run. I didn’t know what else to do with it, so in the spirit of not just leaving it to collect dust on my hard drive I’m going to share it here. You’re excited, you know you are šŸ˜‰

Monster Mythbusting: Lunacy

This issue of Dark Moon Digest features the winners of the paranormal romance contest so Stan suggested I might want to write about something that theme. Great idea, but I was stumped. I asked my Twitter followers about their favourite romantic monster. The winners were Beast from Beauty and the Beast, the Phantom of the Opera and Frankenstein’s monster. I agree with those choices but no clear bustable myth presented itself to me when I considered them.

Then it occurred to me. I was writing this column for Dark Moon Digest. Moon. What could be more romantic than the full moon? You’ve seen in it dozens of movies and read it in even more stories and poems I bet. Lovers, hand in hand, watching the moon, kissing beneath the moon, or sharing a plate of spaghetti in its light. The moon also gets blamed for a lot of things, so much so that the Latin word for it, luna, is the root of the word lunacy. Insanity. The full moon makes werewolves transform, dogs bite and people lose control.

Or does it?

To the first charge I think the moon is required to plead guilty, but I’m going to look at the others in this column. Does the moon really affect behavior? Are hospitals and police stations busier? What about suicides or accidents, are there more of them on a full moon?

The answer is no.

National Geographic News quoted a psychologist from the University of Saskatchewan, Ivan Kelly, as saying, “My own opinion is that the case for full moon effects has not been made.”[1] Kelly is not speaking from a position of ignorance either. At the time of his quote, in 2004, he had published 15 papers on the subject and had reviewed over 50 others. One of those reviewed papers covered 200 stories.

My own, less impressive, research has led me to the same conclusion as Mr. Kelly. I read about the results of 75 different studies[2]. They looked for increased violence, crime, anxiety, depression, suicide, hospital admissions, accidents, drug overdose and animal bites. Only five percent of the results showed an increase in those behaviors. Five percent, and even those were contradicted by other studies.

For example, a 1978 study of 11,613 cases of aggravated assault over a 5-year period showed that the attacks happened more often around the full moon[3]. However, a 2010 study of 23,142 cases of the same crime over a 7-year period, showed no relationship between the assaults and the full moon[4].

Still, despite the lack of empirical data to back it up, the popular belief seems to be that the moon does affect people’s behavior. When I began working on this article every single person I spoke to about it, without exception, believed I would end up proving the case for lunacy, not busting it. Why is that? Why do we so fervently believe that the moon, if I may over-simplify, makes us crazy?

I think it’s largely a cyclical self-fulfilling prophecy. People believe the full moon effects behavior. That subconscious belief may cause them to act differently during a full moon without actually being aware of their full motivations. Even people who do not act differently during a full moon may help perpetuate the myth. Influenced by a belief in the effects of the full moon, people may have a bit of a selective memory. They remember odd things that happen on a full moon but not when they occur on other days. Then, as if that’s not a strong enough cycle to keep the myth going, every once in a while, someone will do a news report or story about behavior changes during the full moon. The article, fuelled by anecdotal “evidence” or one of the vastly out-numbered research studies showing a correlation between the moon and behavior, will reinforce the belief in its readers and the cycle starts again.

Wheee!

For my part, however, I’m calling this myth completely busted. Except in the case of lycanthropes, of course.



[1] “Full Moon Effect on Behavior Minimal, Studies Say,” Last accessed May 5, 2011. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/12/1218_021218_moon.html

[2] “Neuroscience for Kids ā€“ The Full Moon,” Last accessed May 5, 2011. http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/moon.html

[3] “Human aggression and the lunar synodic cycle,” Last accessed May 5, 2011. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/641019?dopt=Abstract

[4] “Relationship between lunar phases and serious crimes of battery: a population-based study,” Last accessed May 5, 2011. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19840597

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