NatureWatch: Full-moon 'madness'


Q: In your opinion, what is the connection between a full moon and animals (including us). Is there a greater effect, a higher rate of "madness" during a full moon?

-- Steve, Adams

A: Right at the start I will say that studies point to the conclusion that science doesn’t even come close to explaining the effect of the full moon on wild or domesticated animals, or us, for that matter. In an analysis that ought to put to rest any lingering doubts about the full moon’s effects, Ivan Kelly, a psychologist at the University of Saskatchewan, found in a review of over 100 studies of lunar cycles and behavior -- including emergency room admissions and suicide attempts, nothing to suggest that humans are somehow changed by Earth’s satellite.

So why do 81 percent of mental health professionals, according to a University of New Orleans study, believe that lunar cycles affect human behavior? (Including people in the medical and law enforcement fields I have talked with.)

What appears to be true about the "full moon-lunacy" belief is a condition called "confirmation bias," meaning we are looking for something to happen under a certain circumstance (a full moon), and it does. What we fail to do, is to notice the same things happen equally at other lunar phase. We don’t connect cause and effect. So, madness may be blamed on the moon, and it is simply most often blamed at the moon’s fullest and brightest.

In 2010, a study found lack of excess criminal activity during a full moon, and a 1985 review of research published in the journal Psychological Bulletin found no convincing evidence that the full moon incites psychiatric disturbances, hospital admissions, homicides, or other criminal activities.

As for domestic animals going wild and biting people during a full moon, recent research says no and yes. At least two separate studies contradict each other in the December 2000 issue of the British Medical Journal.

Chanchall Bhattacharjee and colleagues at the Bradford Royal Infirmary in Bradford, England claim that of 1,621 patients admitted to the ER between 1997 and 1999 for animal [dog] bites, chances for being bitten were twice as high on or around full moon days. While Simon Chapman at the University of Sydney, Australia, compared dates of admission for dog bites to public hospitals in Australia with dates of the full moon over a 12-month period and found no positive relation between the full moon and dog bites.

The moon is at present the most probable cause for spawning of millions, if not billions, of corals (Acropora millepora) every year just after the full moon. Other non-aggressive wild animal activities occur during bright nights, only are influenced by lumens not lunacy.

With the moon’s Latin name, Luna, the root of the term "lunatic," it seems an open-and-shut case, and we will continue to blame the moon. In addition, (some) "bad" things happen at the full moon, such as the Titanic’s sinking and the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011. However, there are equally terrible happenings for each and every phase of the moon, we just don’t blame them on the moon.


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