Under the weather?

Trevor Harley writes.

As I sit writing one gloomy Scottish winter morning it is near impossible to believe that the weather is not affecting my mood. Yet it turns out that the evidence for such an effect is surprisingly difficult to demonstrate.

Early research found small and contradictory effects of weather on mood, but the research is difficult to do, small effects needing large samples and robust methods. The most influential paper argues that effects of weather on mood are complex, and often very difficult to find (Denissen et al., 2008).

On reflection there are good reasons why this should be so. Our behaviour is subject to many factors. We no longer spend as much time outside as people did in the past. We live in temperature controlled living spaces, bathed in artificial light. There are also considerable individual differences in our preferences for weather. An important note by Klimstra et al. (2011) examined the effects of weather on self-reported mood among people classified as summer lovers, summer haters (there are such people), rain haters, and those unaffected by the weather. The weather does not matter for many people, but there are some who like sunshine and whose moods are raised by it, and some who like it wet. These preferences are partly transmitted by our families, although of course there are many reasons why this should be so.

There are also individual differences in the extent to which people are affected by the weather. For many a dull day might mean nothing, but for people suffering from Seasonal Affect Disorder a lack of sunshine in winter can have a pronounced effect of mood.

If we were slaves to every vagary of the weather all our lives would be close to unbearable. For a few people the weather can push someone over the edge. In line with previous research, we have found an increase in the suicide rate in late spring and early summer in some locations but not all, and a complex pattern involving meteorological variables befitting a complex system (Moore et al., 2018). Sunshine, temperature, and rainfall may be involved, but are moderated by other variables. Men are more sensitive to seasonality and weather, a finding perhaps related to my research showing that men are much more inclined to be obsessed by the weather than women (Harley, 2018). Back to waiting for the snow.

Trevor Harley
Emeritus Professor of Psychology, University of Dundee

See also Trevor's 'Notes from a weather observer'.

This article is part of the 'Under…' issue.

References

Denissen, J.J.A., Butalid, L., Penke, L., & Aken, M.A.G. Van. (2008). The effects of weather on daily mood : A multilevel approach. Emotion, 8, 662–667. doi.org/10.1037/a0013497

Klimstra, T.A., Frijns, T., Keijsers, L., Denissen, J.J.A., Raaijmakers, Q.A.W., van Aken, M. a G., … Meeus, W.H.J. (2011). Come rain or come shine: individual differences in how weather affects mood. Emotion, 11, 1495–1499. doi.org/10.1037/a0024649

Harley, T.A. (2018). The psychology of weather. London: Routledge.

Moore, F., Bell, M., Macleod, M., Smith, E., Beaumont, J., Graham, L. , & Harley, T. A. (2018). Season, weather, and suicide - Further evidence for ecological complexity. Neurology, Psychiatry and Brain Research, 30, 110-116. doi:10.1016/j.npbr.2018.08.002 

BPS Members can discuss this article

Already a member? Or Create an account

Not a member? Find out about becoming a member or subscriber