Violent Moods Rise With
The New Moon
By David Bamber
The full moon does make people more violent, according to a scientific study of prisoners in the maximum-security wing at Armley jail, Leeds.
Researchers discovered that there was a definite rise in the number of violent and unruly incidents recorded during the first and last quarter of each lunar cycle, the days either side of a full moon. Claire Smith, a prison officer on A wing, carried out the psychological study of all 1,200 inmates at the prison during more than three months as part of her BSc in nursing at Bradford University.
Prisoners were asked to keep track of their moods and Miss Smith also recorded every violent incident in the prison from February to May. To her surprise, the research linked the moon and behaviour. During the first and last quarter of each lunar month there was a marked increase in violent incidents.
Miss Smith said that during the days just before and after the full moon, as many as five violent incidents, ranging from breaking equipment to fights and woundings, were recorded every day.
But during the other period of every lunar month, there were far fewer incidents and none at all on some days. She said: "I think this has proved that there is definitely a link between the moon and behaviour.
"The best theory I have heard to explain why this happens is that we are made up of 60 to 70 per cent of water and if the moon controls the tides, what is it doing to us? The effects of the lunar cycle is something I'm very interested in and everyone has a theory on the subject."
Miss Smith discovered that prisoners themselves attributed the rise in violence to mood changes, which they experienced as the moon waxed and waned, not to other outside factors such as antagonism from fellow inmates, bad news from home and so on.
Twelve prison officers also kept mood diaries as part of the research, to see if they were influenced by the moon and if their reactions to prisoners' misbehaviour was influenced by the lunar calendar. The results were inconclusive, partly because officers could not allow their emotions to interfere with work and are generally more in control of themselves.
The research has now been used to try to change the way prison officers handle violent inmates, by taking into account underlying factors such as mood. Instead of tackling violence with traditional "control and restraint" measures, officers now have a greater understanding of what caused the problem and can de-escalate tension.
Criminologists have tried to prove a link between crime and the lunar calendar in the past. Jack the Ripper was believed to have carried out two of his killings around the full moon, but that could have been because visibility in the smog-ridden streets would have been better.
Barrie Irving, director of the Police Foundation, a research group, said: "It's not just the new moon. It's also in areas affected by extreme windiness or low pressure, which often coincide around the time of the new moon.
"It has particulaly been observed in mental hospitals. Most people who have worked for a long time in a mental institution will tell you that when it is either very windy, or when there is low pressure, you get peculiar behaviour.
The legend that humans turn into wolves, or become more violent, during a full moon can be traced back to the dawn of civilisation. In recent years it was the basis of the Jack Nicholson film Wolf, where a publisher becomes infected by a creature and turns into a wolf at full moon.