COSMIC INFLUENCES ON BEHAVIOUR
Glenn Wilson, Visiting Gresham Professor of Psychology
WHO BELIEVES IN ASTROLOGY?
Around a quarter of people in
Anglo-American countries
believe in astrology (women
more than men).
Those high on neuroticism are
more likely to read their
horoscope.
Belief in astrology declined
between 2000 and 2005 but is
now increasing among young
“new age” people.
Around 60% of 18-25 yr- olds
in US now believe (Nat.
Science Foundation), while
traditional religious belief is
plunging among young people.
SUN-SIGNS AND PERSONALITY
There is no relationship between natal
charts, sun-signs and personality (Carlson,
1985; Hartmann et al, 2006).
Groups matched for planetary alignment
at birth show no similarity in personality
(Steyn, 2013).
People familiar with their sun-sign and its
supposed traits think their horoscope is
more accurate (Fichten & Sunerton,
1983).
The self-concept of believers is influenced
by knowing their expected personality
traits (Van Rooij, 1999).
People believe more if their sign goes with
favourable traits (Hamilton, 2001).
Sceptics given favourable horoscopes
become more positive in their opinion of
astrology (Glick et al, 1989).
THE BARNUM EFFECT
Named after P.T. Barnham,
American circus manager credited
with saying “there’s one born every
minute”.
Astrologers and fortune tellers exploit
statements about personality that ring
true to nearly everyone.
To others you appear self-confident
but inside you feel much uncertainty.
You are a highly creative person but
people fail to appreciate your true
talents.
Acceptance of bogus personality
descriptions is highest for vague,
ambiguous and flattering statements.
THE “MARS EFFECT”
In the 1950s, French psychologist
Michel Gauquelin claimed that
eminent sports stars and military men
were born disproportionately when
Mars was rising above the horizon or
just past its culmination.
Similar relationships were reported
for actors in relation to Jupiter
(“jovial”) and scientists with Saturn
(“saturnine”).
Effect seemed to apply only to
natural births (not those induced).
Studies with newer samples were
progressively less able to replicate
the Mars Effect (Kurtz et al, 1997).
Position of Mars at birth of eminent
sportsmen according to M.Gauquelin.
SOCIAL ARTIFACTS
Detailed analysis by Dean (2002)
showed that the Mars Effect (and
other “planetary” influences) could
be accounted for by self-attribution
and parental “adjustment” of birth
details.
Parents avoided midnight when
registering their child’s birth, tilting
the date to the auspicious side.
Christian feasts, full moon and “lucky
days” (1st, 3rd & 7th) were favoured,
against witches’ sabbats, new moon
& “unlucky days” (9th, 13th & last).
This information could be gleaned
from widely read almanacs.
SHEEP v. GOATS
Research on people who believe
in the paranormal (sheep)
compared with those who do not
(goats) reveals certain personality
differences.
Sheep are higher in Openness to
experience and lower in
Conscientiousness than goats.
Traditionally religious people
show the reverse traits (Miklousic
et al, 2012) - more conscientious
and less open.
“Sheep” are inclined to various
schizoid traits and the use of
recreational drugs - “new age”
tendencies (Swami et al, 2011).
BOUNDARIES OF THE MIND
Thalbourne (2009) describes
paranormal belief as a form of
transliminality – blurring of fantasy
and reality and propensity to enjoy
altered states of consciousness.
Paranormal beliefs are associated
with the same reasoning biases as
those underlying psychotic
delusions (Irwin et al, 2012).
Persinger (2001) implicates
temporal lobe electro-sensitivity in
people who have anomalous
experiences, similar to complex
partial seizures in the amygdala and
hippocampus.
LUNACY
43% of people believe the full moon
causes erratic behaviour – even higher
for mental health professionals &
emergency workers (Vance, 1995).
Scientific evidence is elusive. A metaanalysis of 37 lunar-lunacy studies
involving psychiatric admissions crisis
calls, accidents, murder and suicide
(Rotton & Kelly, 1985) found no
consistent effects of moon phases.
Likewise a review of 20 studies on
suicide (Martin et al, 1993).
Odd positive results continue to be
reported (Parmar et al, 2014) but effect
sizes are tiny at best.
WHEN THE DOG BITES
Wolves are supposed to be
more active at full moon.
Not actually so, because
prey is concealed (Sabato et
al, 2006). Baying at the
moon is a mating call rather
than hunting-related.
An A& E study in Bradford
reported that admissions for
animal bites were twice as
frequent at full moon
(Bhattacharjee et al, 2000).
However, an Australian
study failed to replicate
(Chapman & Morrell,
2000).
LYCANTHROPY
Rare clinical condition: individual believes
he/she is changing into a wolf (or some
other animal) or behaves as though they are.
Roots in werewolf legends and fictional
works like Jekyll & Hyde but still seen in
modern times (Keck et al, 1988).
May appear as a form of multiplepersonality disorder, an empowerment
fantasy or a psychotic delusion.
Projection of sexual/aggressive instincts
onto an animal (Garlipp et al, 2004), or just
a convenient excuse for letting out the
animal in oneself?
One case was connected with damage to
proprioceptive brain areas (Moselhy, 1999).
If people believe the moon changes them
there is bound to be some self-fulfilling
prophecy.
MOON TROUBLE
Belief in power of the moon is confirmed by
tidal pull (even though gravitational effects
on brain are tiny and same for new moon).
Reinforced by myths/horror stories/movies
throughout history.
Selective recall – when a bizarre event
occurs together with a full moon it is planted
in memory (no perceived link if moon is
new).
Moonlight is romantic – illumination is
subtle, mysterious, and optimal for
mischievous activity (e.g. full-moon parties
in Thailand).
Monthly female cycle is coincidental (not
same for all primates) but women with 30day cycles may lock onto moon phases,
menstruating mostly when full. Such women
are particularly fertile (Cutler et al, 1987).
SLEEP DISRUPTION
Beliefs about lunacy at full moon
could have arisen because,
historically, sleep deprivation
sparked erratic behaviour in
vulnerable individuals (e.g., manic
and epileptic episodes). Modern
studies don’t find because artificial
lighting has obscured lunar light
variations (Raison et al, 1999).
Poor sleep at full moon (as
measured by EEG and melatonin as
well as self-report) has been
observed in a sealed sleep lab
where moonlight was not seen
(Cajochen et al 2013). Endogenous
lunar cycle, or perhaps subjects
aware of moon phases from diary.
SEASON OF BIRTH
Birth season effects on health and
behaviour are well documented .
Humans unusual in breeding fairly evenly
across year (esp. industrial society).
Preferred temp. for conception about 12C
in morning, hence slight peaks in
April/November (Europe & US).
Best time to be born is autumn - life span
about 160 days longer than spring
(reversed in S.Hemisphere.) Centenarians
more often born Sept/Nov; their siblings
in March.
Spring corresponds with winter foetal
development.
Schizophrenia about 10% more common
in winter births (compared with summer).
Winter birth has been linked
with schizophrenia, biopolar
disorder, creativity and lefthandedness.
DON’T BE BORN IN SPRING
Many medical conditions greater for certain birth months (esp. spring), with
reversals in the Southern Hemisphere (Foster & Roenneberg, 2008).
POSSIBLE MECHANISMS
(1) Poorer nutrition and more infectious
diseases in winter running up to spring birth
(Currie & Schwandt, 2013).
(2) Vitamin D depends largely on sunlight deficient during winter at high latitudes and
may affect foetal development.
(3) The perinatal light-dark cycle
permanently imprints the biological clock
in rats, affecting activity cycles for life
(Ciarieglio et al, 2011)
(4) Allergens vary by season (more pollen
in spring/summer).
(5) Deprived mothers give birth more in
months with worst outcomes. More
teenagers/unmarried mothers in winter
(Buckles & Hungerman, 2013).
(6) Summer-born children academically
disadvantaged because younger than
classmates (Bell & Daniels, 1990).
The suprachiasmic nucleus and pineal
gland control many body clocks, with
light inhibiting secretion of melatonin.
MATERNAL MELATONIN
Professional baseball players (esp.
biggest hitters) show distinct
seasonality (excess born in
November; fewer than expected in
May). Lesbians show the same
pattern and gay men the opposite
(Marzullo, 2014).
The 4th month of pregnancy
(critical for sexual dimorphism)
would occur at the summer solstice
for November births and midwinter for May births.
Marzullo hypothesises that sunlight
suppresses maternal melatonin in
mid-summer, unleashing foetal
testosterone (vice-versa in winter).
SOLAR ACTIVITY
Sunspots cycle over 11 years.
Associated with more intense
geomagnetic activity. Affect
communications on Earth, and there
is (controversial) evidence that EM
activity also affects human behaviour
and health via brain or epigenetics
(Lucock, 2012).
Anxiety, depression & suicide are
most often implicated (Tada et al,
2014); also temporal lobe seizures,
hallucinations, UFO sightings, and
sundry paranormal phenomena
(Lipnicki, 2009, Saroka et al, 2014).
Not always clear whether high or low
EM activity is responsible and many
sources of variation apart from Sun.
Solar activity follows an 11-yr cycle,
which may be diminishing ahead of a
reversal of Sun’s polarity.
CRYPTOCHROMES
Plants, insects and some animals
(e.g., birds, turtles) are equipped
with primitive blue-sensitive
photoreceptor proteins that
contribute to biological clocks
and sense magnetic fields to
assist in navigation.
Cryptochromes and magnetosensation could also affect
human behaviour via the pineal
gland and melatonin.
Disturbances in consciousness
would likely involve the
hypothalamic/pituitary stress
system (Close, 2012).
Research currently in infancy but
exciting field for future.
SUMMARY
No evidence for any planetary effect on
human behaviour, either linked with
time of birth or otherwise.
Moon’s gravity has no effect and moon
phases very little (hardly detectable to
casual observer).
Season of birth effects on health are
real, particularly for those living away
from the equator.
Solar storms and geomagnetism may
have subtle disruptive effects on
behaviour but research is controversial.
Superstitious beliefs stem from
illogicality and a loose grip on reality.
Can be dangerous when important
decisions are based on them.
Donald Regan confirmed that
President Reagan was influenced
by the “occult prognostications” of
Nancy’s astrologer.
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