Tonight is the full moon, and according to several scientific studies that means you're far more likely to be the victim of a crime or creamed in an accident. I'd always assumed it was an urban legend that the full moon coincided with a rise in human weirdness. But some scientists believe there is factual evidence (see chart) that human behavior takes a swerve for the worse during these werewolfish days. Indian medical researchers CP Thakur and Dilip Sharma published an article in the British Medical Journal in 1984 where they demonstrated that incidents of crime were far higher on full moon days - that's their chart, above. They based their work on four years of police reports from three towns: One rural, one urban, and one industrial. Apparently poisonings were particularly popular on full moon days, but crimes of all types rose by a significant amount. Several years later, they published another article in the same journal about the rise in animal attacks during the full moon. Thakur and Sharma blame "human tidal waves" for the rise in crime. They believe that the full moon exerts more gravity on the water in human bodies, disturbing our biological processes. That rationale may sound a bit like poppycock, but their statistics remain intriguing. And other researchers take the correlation between moon cycles and crime seriously too.
Brighton, UK Police determined last year that they would beef up numbers of patrolling officers on nights of the full moon because their research showed a strong connection between that and violent crime (payday also caused a rise in crime). According to the BBC:
In 1998, a three-month psychological study of 1,200 inmates at Armley jail in Leeds discovered a rise in violent incidents during the days either side of a full moon.
And insurance companies have also done studies that suggest there's a correlation between accidents and the full moon. Back in 2003, Bloomberg reported:
Car accidents occur 14 percent more often on average during a full moon than a new moon, according to a study of 3 million car policies by the U.K.'s Churchill Insurance Group Plc.
But psychologist Ivan Kelly, a researcher at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, says the whole idea is bunk. He's reviewed nearly 50 scientific studies of the relationship between a full moon and changes in human behavior, and has found nothing but shoddy research as well as a tendency to confuse correlation and causation. He told National Geographic:
The studies are not consistent. For every positive study, there is a negative study. Journalists pay too much attention to finding sensational news or news that will support interesting results. Hence [they] ignore the findings of studies and tend to prefer stories or anecdotes from policemen or nurses.
Celeb psychiatrist Glenn Wilson suggested people's behavior might change at the full moon, but not due to any sort of "human tidal wave" shenanigans:
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.
So if you're feeling a little mischievous tonight, it might be the full moon. Or it might just be the fact that you read some sensationalistic articles about how the full moon affects people's behavior. Moon image via NASA.