Bad Moon Rising: The Myth of the Full Moon

What's really behind the widespread belief that full moons cause chaos?

ByABC News
February 9, 2009, 4:13 PM

March 21, 2008 — --

For centuries, mankind has been intrigued by the notion that a full moon which rises tonight drives people to madness, crime, suicide and major crisis.

It's one of the most enduring myths in human history, embedded in popular culture and folklore from Transylvania and the myth of the werewolf to Creedence Clearwater Revival's breakaway 1969 hit, "Bad Moon Rising." The word "lunacy" has its roots in the Latin word for moon.

And like most popular myths, there's a certain logic to it: Earth is about 80 percent water, much like the human body, the theory goes, and if the moon's gravitational pull can effect the ocean tides, can't it also affect a person's body?

Studies have found that cops and hospital workers are among the strongest believers in the notion that more crime and trauma occur on nights when the moon is full. One 1995 University of New Orleans study found that as many as 81 percent of mental health professionals believe the myth.

But a growing body of evidence in the last 30 years has all but debunked the notion that nothing good can come from a full moon.

"Published [research] does not confirm that there is a change in the amount of violence, reported crimes or aggressive behavior during a full moon," Eric Chudler told ABC News. Chudler, a research associate professor in bioengineering at the University of Washington in Seattle, has studied more than 100 research papers on the purported effects of the full moon on human affairs.

A touchstone moment for contemporary belief in this myth came in 1978 with the publication of psychiatrist Arnold Lieber's best-seller "Lunar Effects: Biological Tides and Human Emotions," which popularized the gravitational pull theory. In that first edition, Lieber describes how his research led him to fear particularly high levels of trouble during the full moons in January and February of 1974 in Florida, after a study he conducted that purportedly linked the full moon to higher homicide rates in Miami-Dade County, Fla. He writes that he contacted Miami police, media and one hospital administrator to warn them of the expected chaos.

"Sure enough, all hell broke loose," he wrote in a 1996 updated version of the book, retitled, "How the Moon Affects You: A Compelling and Controversial Book on the Awesome Power to Affect Your Emotions and the Way You Live."

What he failed to add was that he'd predicted similar outbreaks of chaos in December 1990 and January 1992, according to a critical review by James Rotton, a Florida psychology professor and well-respected researcher in the field. "Of course these dates passed uneventfully," Rotton writes in "Moonshine," his critical review of Lieber's work for the journal Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.