Ancient authorities like Aristotle, Paracelsus, and Pliny the Elder thought some humans were driven crazy by the full Moon. The Latin name for the Moon—“Luna”—is the root of modern words like “lunacy,” “lunatic,” and even “loon,” as in “crazy as a loon.”
Even today, many doctors, nurses, EMTs, police officers, and elementary school teachers agree that full Moons will bring bizarre behavior—43 percent of healthcare professionals believe in what some call “the lunar influence,” as do 81 percent of mental healthcare specialists. But is there really a lunar connection to abnormal behavior?
Science says no. Hundreds of studies have failed to turn up evidence of the lunar influence. And those few studies that suggest a connection are usually disproved or contradicted by others:
- one study says more animal bites (from cats, rats, dogs, horses) occur at the full Moon
- another says there’s no increase in dog bites
- one shows an increase in crime around the full Moon
- others find no increase in arrests, calls for police assistance, prison assaults, batteries, or homicides
- admissions for psychosis are lowest during the full Moon, and psychiatric emergency room visits decline
- calls to suicide prevention hotlines peak at the new Moon.
One explanation might be what psychologists call “confirmation bias”—people are more likely to notice things that confirm a preexisting belief. If you’re working in an emergency room, and something weird happens on the full Moon, your older and wiser colleagues nod and say, “Must be a full Moon.” That’s what they heard from their elders when they were new at the job. (Psychologists have a name for that, too: “communal reinforcement.”)
But if something weird happens at a different phase of the lunar cycle, nobody says, “Must be the third quarter Moon!” And when nothing unusual happens on the full Moon, nobody says anything.
We call widespread beliefs that are unsupported by fact folklore. Erika Brady, who teaches folklore at Western Kentucky University, says, “it’s a way of imposing order on something that feels frighteningly out of control.”
How does a belief that strange things happen on the full Moon help us feel safer? The full Moon occurs only once every 29.5 days; that means the other four weeks of the lunar month should be less dangerous and unpredictable. See the next full Moon.
Therefore, this folk belief implies that our fears about everything from increased bleeding to werewolves may be limited to only 12 or 13 days per year.
Hey! Maybe that’s why the number 13 worries people!