Houston, Texas, is perhaps better known as Moody Weather, Texas. As the dreary weather pours down on this wet weekend, I feel lethargic, bored, and quite frankly, leaving my bed is the last thing I’d prefer to do. It is a common thought that laziness and downy moods are tied to the weather. However, it is a big misconception. It’s not the daily weather that affect moods, but the seasons (like this winter!) and the overall climates of geographic areas that can.
Weathering your mood?
Day-to-day differences in weather have not been found to affect moods over time across a large pool of participants. A study analyzed six weather parameters: temperature, wind power, sunlight, precipitation, air pressure, and photoperiod and compared them to mood. Combining these weather parameters, they found no general tie to rainy or sunny days; however, they did find a slight correlation of the intensity of mood reported by each individual.1 This means, for example, that an extremely sunny day or rainy day can make your mood intense in any effect, positive or negative. Weather fluctuations can affect your short term mood mildly, but no conclusion can be made for any of the weather parameters.5
On the other hand, the winter blues are real. Although short-term conclusions cannot be made, seasonal ones can. Seasonal affective disorder, colloquially known as “SAD”, is the feeling of depression throughout the months of November-February. This disorder affects 4-6% of Americans, while a milder form of SAD affects approximately 25% of women. Symptoms of these depressed feelings include fatigue, increased sleep, and lack of or increased appetite. According to Dr. Debra Moore of Sacramento Psychology, “it’s a vicious cycle. Sleeping more causes even less exposure to daylight and sunshine, and the symptoms become worse.”2
Interestingly enough, a study done in 2004 suggests that SAD is a result of a vestigial evolutionary advantage. Women were affected by SAD in the winter months, and as a result, had reduced numbers of pregnancies during that time. Instead, the women were more likely to be pregnant in the summer, which had a higher chance for a healthy delivery, increasing the baby’s chance of survival.3
SAD can expand into larger geographic locations. Moving from a longer day in sunny Miami to the colder, darker days of a Boston winter can cause an onset of SAD. As a result of this, generalizations can be made of geographic regions. Certain areas of the world where the sunlight doesn’t hit has a higher percentage of depressed moods.4 The short term weather patterns combined with seasons create this generalization.
The weather does not definitively affect mood, but long term patterns in weather and climate do. There are too many differences from person to person to sufficiently determine if a drop in temperature or a rainy day is to blame for a bad mood. The next time you’re in a bad mood, don’t be so quick to say you’re “under the weather”.
Dana Smith is a sophomore from Wiess College at Rice University.
J. D.; L. P.; L. B.; M. A. The Effects of Weather on Daily Mood: A Multilevel Approach. The Effects of Weather on Daily Mood: A Multilevel Approach, https://www.psychologie.hu-berlin.de/de/prof/perdev/pdf/2008/denissen_weather_mood_2008.pdf.
D. M. Dark, Rainy Days May Affect Your Mood. http://www.sacramentopsychology.com/index.php/articleslayout/75-depression/163-dark-rainy-days-may-affect-your-mood-.html.
J. M. E. Seasonal affective disorder: a vestigial evolutionary advantage? National Center for Biotechnology Information, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15488644.
Targum, S. D.; Rosenthal, N. Seasonal Affective Disorder. Psychiatry (Edgmont), http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/pmc2686645/.
J. G. Can Weather Affect Your Mood? World of Psychology, http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/08/29/can-weather-affect-your-mood/