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.