Can’t Bear the Heat?

The summer weather was slow in arriving but is now in full blast.  In places like Sacramento and Reno, the temperature has been reaching triple digits.  How is all this heat affecting our behavior?

Many people would blindly say that tempers rise when hot summer days are prevalent.  Try to argue with someone on that matter and you might find yourself in a very heated debate.   But do hot temperatures cause people to temporarily go crazy?

What is the correlation between heat and violence?  Science purports that yes there is a correlation but it is not quite what one would expect. reported on one study that psychologists Ellen Cohn and James Rotton of Florida State University have conducted, which concluded that assaults rose with the temperature but only to a point.

An interesting fact from this study is that crime doesn’t rise when it is super hot like one might suspect.  The study purports that at around 80 degrees Fahrenheit crime rates for assault started to decrease.  Therefore, the findings suggest that at moderate levels of discomfort, people are disgruntled and lash out, while at high temperatures they just want to chill out indoors or relax and use less energy.

This makes sense since when it’s really hot people’s major concern tends to be to stay cool and conserve energy.  People get lazy in super hot weather.  Don’t they?

Interesting enough, psychologist Craig Anderson from Iowa State has conflicting data that suggests a linear relationship between heat and violence, with assault rates peaking at the highest temperature.

Arguments for Anderson’s theory state that body changes during hot weather such as increased heart rates, blood circulation, sweating (all associated with fight or flight) and increases in testosterone provide the perfect conditions for aggressive behavior.

What are our thoughts?  Does crime go hand in hand with soaring temperatures?

2 responses to “Can’t Bear the Heat?”

  1. Keith D. says:

    Having spent 12 years living in Phoenix where the highest temperature I experienced personally was 123 F (121 F at the airport), I tend to agree more with Cohn and Rotton’s results. Once temperatures got REALLY hot, people would still be angry but nobody felt like doing anything about it. Of course, there is air conditioning out in the real world, so that can become a factor wherein someone becomes angry more easily in the heat and realizes that if they can just hold the pursuit of their ire for a little while, they can then escalate somewhere else in relative comfort.

    In short, incidences of anger seemed to increase the higher the temperature, but pursuit of that anger seemed to taper off in very high temperatures in my personal experience.

    To be more complete, they should also to analyses between cities with similar temperatures but widely varying humidity levels. Hot and muggy vs. hot and dry might be the key.

  2. Keith – As always very apt remarks. I think your last comment on analyses between cities is a great idea and perhaps the next study on heat and anger.

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