Here in the UK the weather feels depressing.
We’re in the middle of winter in the northern hemisphere and it’s cold and we’re being battered by gales and torrential rain. The sun, even when it does show its face, is setting at 4pm. It’s no wonder people in the street look fed up.
But according to most of the research on the connection between weather and mood, they shouldn’t be. I’ve covered these highly counter-intuitive findings before and the title of that article sums it up: Weather Has Little Effect on Mood.
When you tell people this, though, they don’t believe it. Most of us intuitively think the weather has quite a strong effect on our mood. Many assume that the rain and cold weather depresses us and sun and warmth perks us up.
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So why don’t we see this effect in the research?
That’s the question a new study by Klimstra et al. (2011) tries to answer with a group of adolescents and their mothers. They tested the idea that although our reactivity to weather averages out across the whole population, there are large differences between individuals.
And it turns out this is true. In fact Klimstra et al. found four distinct groups:
- Unaffected: about half the people in their study fell into this group. For these people it didn’t matter that much whether it was raining or sunny, hot or cold, their mood was mostly unaffected.
- Summer lovers: here’s the group you’d expect. For these people, their mood improved with less rain, more sun and higher temperatures (15% of adolescents and 30% of their mothers fell into this category).
- Summer haters: here’s a group of people you hear less about. These were the exact opposite of the summer lovers so they were happier when there was more rain, less sun and lower temperatures. Summer haters were more prevalent amongst the adolescents (27%) than their mothers (12%).
- Rain haters: this group’s mood didn’t change with the temperature, sunshine or the wind; they just hated the rain. These guys were in the minority, making up 8% of adolescents and 12% of their mothers.
This helps explain why studies keep finding that weather doesn’t have much effect on mood: it’s because we’re different and these differences were mostly being averaged out.
Most surprising are not the group of winter SADs (seasonally affected disorder) but the summer SADs. We hear a lot about the former and nothing about the latter, but from this study the summer SADs look like a significant group of people, especially amongst adolescents.
There was also an association between how the adolescents and their mothers reacted to the weather. This suggests your weather type may well run in the family. If you’re a summer hater, it’s likely your parents are too.
Image credit: Noukka Signe
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This site is all about scientific research into how the mind works.
It’s mostly written by psychologist and author, Dr Jeremy Dean.
I try to dig up fascinating studies that tell us something about what it means to be human.