The answer to the question “can the weather control our mood” is most definitely: yes. Scientists have been researching this topic for decades and a majority of findings support the notion. As to what effects different kinds of weather can have… That’s a bit more complicated.
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The effects of sunlight on mood are perhaps the most studied. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD for short) is a well-known disorder affecting about 30% of the UK population. SAD sufferers experience depression in the autumn and winter months as the days get shorter. That’s not to say that the depression is non-existent in spring and summer – but the symptoms may be more subdued. The accepted theory is that the hypothalamus – the part of the brain which controls thirst, hunger, fatigue and sleep – is prevented from functioning properly without sufficient levels of sunlight. Levels of serotonin (a hormone generally thought to control mood) drop, causing symptoms of depression. So, there’s proof that the weather can have a direct biological effect on us.
For other types of weather, the links are correlational. That is, we know there’s a link between weather and behaviour, but it’s not clear if weather is the cause of mood changes, or just a factor in a bigger picture. There’s plenty more research to be done.
The temperature of the environment is known to have an effect on us. Warmth is beneficial as it lifts people’s moods. However, it seems there’s a threshold. Once the temperature gets too high, its effect becomes negative. A study done in 2013 showed that when it was very hot, numbers of group conflicts and individual conflicts rose by 14% and 4%, respectively. The USA’s Department of Justice has found that crime rates rise in hot weather.
Muggy days have also been proven to impact our mood. High humidity is when the air is saturated with water vapour, meaning that it’s harder for you to cool down. Lethargy increases when it’s muggy, which is unfortunate as high humidity also makes it more difficult to sleep! Studies looking into humidity showed that participants felt a lack of “vigour, elation, and affection” in muggier conditions. Usually mugginess disappears after a thunderstorm and things feel fresher. It’s possible our moods improve after storms too, giving us a fresher state of mind.
Rainy days have a reputation for being pretty dull and slightly melancholy. They’re days for cuddling up inside with a cup of tea. Perhaps the media is to blame for this image. Films and TV shows tend to portray rain as a pensive kind of weather. In contrast, scientists have found that heavy rain might actually make us more aggressive. People also seem to have lower life satisfaction on rainy days versus on dry days. Of course, getting wet from the rain won’t help things either. Take an umbrella when you go out to avoid an even worse mood!
Research indicates that men and women respond to weather differently. Men are more likely to be flexible and change their plans to suit the weather. Women tend to view their plans as more ‘set in stone’, and are less likely to change despite unfavourable conditions. This may make for a less optimistic outlook. Of course, this won’t be true for everyone, but it’s interesting to consider how gender could determine our response.
New research might bring a new perspective to the topic. A recent study, done on a small group of Dutch teenagers, indicated that people might have “weather personalities”. 52% of the group expressed preference for certain seasons or weathers. Their moods decreased when the opposite weather occurred. For example, people who dislike summer were happier in winter. There’s not much research on this, and the study mentioned can’t be generalised. However, it’s an interesting line of inquiry and could well be at odds with previous research. For example, would a person who loves winter be less likely to develop SAD? There are plenty of questions to be asked.
So yes, weather can affect our mood. Aside from sunlight, there aren’t any concrete theories as to how the biology works. However, with research on this topic showing no sign of stopping soon, it’s only a matter of time until we find out the answers.