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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

It Just May Be a Lunatic Your're Looking For

 "Even a man who is pure in heart 
And says his prayers by night,
May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms 
And the autumn moon is bright."

From the film The Wolf Man, 1941

A significant number of the public believes under a full moon insanity and murder rage; births, heart attacks, and suicides increase; and epileptic seizures burgeon. These people believe the increased gravitational pull and light of a full moon are sufficient to cause aberrations. This belief has origins from long ago.

The Roman goddess of the moon bore a name that remains familiar to us today: Luna, prefix of the word lunatic. Greek philosopher Aristotle and Roman historian Pliny the Elder suggested that the brain was the “moistest” organ in the body and thereby most susceptible to the pernicious influences of the moon, which triggers the tides. Belief in the “Transylvania effect,” as it is sometimes called, persisted in Europe through the Middle Ages. And, some superstitious individuals today still believe a full moon increases the activities of supernatural creatures like wolf men, demons, and vampires.

One survey revealed that 45 percent of college students believe moonstruck humans are prone to unusual behaviors, and other surveys suggest that mental health professionals may be still more likely than laypeople to hold this conviction. In 2007 several police departments in the U.K. even added officers on full-moon nights in an effort to cope with presumed higher crime rates.

(Scott O. Lilienfeld and Hal Arkowitz, "Lunacy and the Full Moon," 
Scientific American, February 9 2009)

A host of studies over the years have aimed at finding any statistical connection between the moon -- particularly the full moon -- and human biology or behavior. The majority of sound studies find no connection, while some have proved inconclusive, and many that purported to reveal connections turned out to involve flawed methods or have never been reproduced.

According to livescience editorial director Robert Roy Britt, "Reliable studies comparing the lunar phases to births, heart attacks, deaths, suicides, violence, psychiatric hospital admissions and epileptic seizures, among other things, have over and over again found little or no connection."

(Robert Roy Britt, "Moon Myths: The Truth About Lunar Effects on You,", September 25 2009)

* A study in the journal Epilepsy & Behavior in 2004 found no connection between epileptic seizures and the full moon, even though some patients believe their seizures to be triggered by the full moon.

* A 2005 study by Mayo Clinic researchers, reported in the journal Psychiatric Services, looked at how many patients checked into a psychiatric emergency department between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. over several years. They found no statistical difference in the number of visits on the three nights surrounding full moons vs. other nights.

* Researchers examined 150,999 records of emergency room visits to a suburban hospital. Their study, reported in American Journal of Emergency Medicine in 1996, found no difference at full moon vs. other nights.

* In a study in the October 2009 issue of the journal Anesthesiology researchers found the risks are the same no matter what day of the week or time of the month you schedule your coronary artery bypass graft surgery

* In a December 23, 2000 issue of the British Medical Journal Simon Chapman at the University of Sydney in 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.

* Florida International University psychologist James Rotton, Colorado State University astronomer Roger Culver and University of Saskatchewan psychologist Ivan W. Kelly combined the results of multiple studies and treating them as though they were one huge study—a statistical procedure called  meta-analysis -- and they have found that full moons are entirely unrelated to a host of events, including crimes, suicides, psychiatric problems and crisis center calls. In their 1985 review of 37 studies entitled “Much Ado about the Full Moon,” which appeared in one of psychology’s premier journals, Psychological Bulletin, Rotton and Kelly humorously bid goodbye to the full-moon effect and concluded that further research on it was unnecessary.

Why People Hold Onto "Full Moon" Beliefs

1. One reason is that people have selective memories," says Eric Chudler, a psychologist at the University of Washington in Seattle. "When something unusual happens and there is a full moon, people might notice the moon and assign blame."

2. Another mistake, according to Chudler, is related to a simple mistake. People fail to make the distinction between correlation and causation. He notes that just because a study finds a relationship between a full moon and certain behavior, it does not mean the moon caused this behavior.
"These are correlational studies," he says.

3. Ivan Kelly, a Canadian psychologist at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, suggests that people who conduct studies and confirm a direct relationship between the full moon and human behavior often do not collect data throughout the entire month to see if the behavior is more elevated at full-moon time compared to the rest of the month.

4. Kelly also blames the insatiable desire of the public for sensational media coverage.
"Journalists pay too much attention to finding sensational news or news that will support interesting results," he says. "Hence [they] ignore the findings of studies and tend to prefer stories or anecdotes from policemen or nurses."

5. And, finally, how about a "light" study reported in the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph conducted by Mexican tequila distiller Jose Cuervo and a psychiatrist at Kings College in London? Rather strange bedfellows?

The psychiatrist, Glenn Wilson, found that the full moon has been portrayed in folklore and legends for centuries as cause for celebration, particularly in the times before modern lighting. "There is good reason to believe that people's personalities do change around the time of the full moon, not because of any astronomical force, but because it creates the optimum lighting conditions for feeling carefree and mischievous," Wilson told the paper.

(John Roach, "Full Moon Effect On Behavior Minimal, Studies Say," 
National Geographic News, February 6  2004)

Perhaps a True "Missing Conclusion"?

Just recently, Christian Cajochen, a professor and director of the Centre for Chronobiology at the University of Basel in Switzerland, issued an interesting finding in the Journal of Current Biology.

Cajochen found that people experienced better sleep during the new moon and worse sleep during a full moon. The actual difference? During the full moon, it takes an average of five minutes longer to fall asleep and people dozed for 20 minutes less. And, their melatonin levels dropped. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle by causing drowsiness and a dip in body temperature.  

“I was also surprised to see, that besides sleep, also evening melatonin levels were affected by lunar phase,” he says.

While Cajochen remains unsure about why people don’t sleep as well during the full moon, he speculates that sleep worsens because they see more light, meaning they don’t sleep as deeply, because light keeps us awake.

Cajochen admits there’s little we can do do to combat poor sleep during a full moon if excess daylight is the culprit. But, these findings will help people who believe the full moon leads to their restless nights.

“If somebody thinks he or she is sensitive to the moon effects on sleep, [doctors] should probably account for that,” he says.

(Meghan Holohan, Full Moon Can Mess With Your Sleep, New Study Finds," 
NBC News, July 25 2013)

Missing sleep can make a monster out of anyone operating under the stress and pressures of modern life. Maybe some measure of full moon madness is a result of cranky, sleepless individuals loaded with gallons of caffeine and other stimulants. I see a criminal defense developing in law offices across the world -- chemical imbalance. Just blame it on the moon, man.

"Till you've been beside a man
You don't know what he wants
You don't know if he cries at night
You don't know if he don't
When nothin' comes easy
Old nightmares are real
Until you've been beside a man
You don't know how he feels"

"Shame On the Moon"  Rodney Crowell

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