Full Moons and Crime AKA The Lunar Effect: Real Deal or Pseudoscience?

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Home / Full Moons and Crime AKA The Lunar Effect: Real Deal or Pseudoscience?

Does the full moon really cause crime? Image courtesy of NASA

The occasional question of “is it a full moon?” to explain weird behavior has been around for ages. Many people believe that the full moon has a direct effect on human behavior. Could it be really true that there’s more crime during the full moon?

Maybe so. Jessica Hamzelou, in Night Special: Full moon mayhem is for real, quotes Neurology Professor Mark Quigg as saying, “once you are in the medical field, there is the constant bemoaning that everything happens on a full moon,” which includes crime and suicides. Some doctors can attest to that, as well as the police – and maybe even a few bartenders.

Scientists have conducted studies to try to support that claim; some experts believe it is just a myth. In the legal system it’s just another potential defense.

Lunar Effect as a Defense

If it’s possible that the lunar cycle affects some people’s behavior, this fact has implications for the court system; the ‘full moon’ has even been a defense in criminal cases. According to Psychology today, in the 19th century England, lawyers used the defense of “guilty by reason of the full moon” to make claim that their “lunatic” clients were not accountable for their actions under the moon’s influence – creating the “Lunar Defense.”

Effects of Moon Phases: Beliefs vs. Studies

A study done by the University of New Orleans in 1995, showed that cops and hospital workers were among the strongest believers that more crime and trauma occurred on nights when the moon was full. However, according to Dr. Eric Chudler, in Bad Moon Rising, published research does not confirm that there is a change in the amount of violence reported crimes or aggressive behavior during a full moon. Here are a few of those studies:

  •  University of Washington did a study in 1978 concluding that out of 11,613 cases of aggravated assault in a 5 year period, assaults occurred more often around the full moon, and 34,318 crimes in a yearlong period also showed that crimes occurred more frequently during the full moon.
  • According to the Daily Mail, informal research done by the Sussex Police in 2007 concluded that there was indeed a rise in violent crimes committed during the full moon.
  • Interestingly enough, as reported by the Fairfax, New Zealand News, New Zealand’s Justice Minister, Annette King supported the link between the moon and crime after a spike in violence in January 2008, which could have been caused by the lunar effect.

Crime and the Moon: Theories

Is there really a correlation between crime and the full moon? What could cause an increase in aggression around a particular lunar phase?

  • According to Michael Zimecki’s 2006 study, researchers examined the incidence of crimes reported to 3 police stations in different towns in Europe during the period of 1978-1982. This study showed that the incidence of crimes committed on full-moon days was much higher than on all other days. The author concluded that the increased percentage of crimes and suicides on full moon days may be due to “human tidal waves” caused by the gravitational pull of the moon.
  • In a study led by Dr. Christian Cajochen of the University of Basel ‘s Psychiatric hospital, 33 volunteers participated to find about the light effects of the moon as it impacts our ability to get a good night’s sleep. The researchers found that it took 5 minutes longer for the volunteers to fall asleep when there was a full moon, with 30% less time in REM, and 20 minutes less sleep overall.
  • Miami psychiatrist Arnold Leiber (1978), in his book, The Lunar Effect, proposed that the moon was linked to human behavior by adversely affecting their mental and emotional ability by raising physiological disruptive”biological tides ” in the body akin to the tides it raises in the earth’s ocean.

Does a Full Moon Cause Crime?

Although anecdotal evidence points to a connection between the moon and aggression, studies aren’t conclusive. As we ponder the potential of various aspects of the moon phases to affect our bodies and minds – and thereby crime and trauma rates – the jury is still out on whether a full moon really makes a difference.

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