John's Blog

The Blog of John Gibson, PhD

Blue mood

Gray Skies, Blue Mood?

People tend to believe that weather effects their mood, but does it?

Maybe not.

David Watson, a mood researcher at the University of Iowa, challenges this widely held belief. In fact, in a series of studies, he and his colleagues found very low to nonexistent correlations between negative moods and dark days or days with precipitation. Likewise, the relationship between sunny skies and positive mood was also found to be questionable. Moods vary in many ways, and apparently have various sources, but weather consistently turned out to be a poor predictor of either positive of negative affect.

How can this be so?

In his book, Mood and Temperament, he offers one explanation: illusory correlation. Let's say, for instance, that we're in a negative mood. If we look out the window and it's dark or rainy outside, we may attribute our mood to the weather because it's a handy explanation. But if we look outside and it's sunny, we overlook weather and begin searching for an alternative explanations.

Watson admitted he was surprised by his own findings. He expected fairly significant correlations between weather and mood. They conducted multiple studies, by the way, in the USA and in Japan.

And yet...

I not entirely convinced the matter is settled. For instance, were I live (Michigan) we often have days and days of gray in the month of February. This is especially prominent along the lakeshore. When the sun doesn't shine for days, everyone complains about feeling gloomy. And then one day the sun pops out and the sky is clear and cloudless, and suddenly everybody's smiling again and expressing relief.

I can't help but wonder whether a stronger relationship between weather and mood would have been found if Watson and company had tracked people's moods for a longer period of time. Say, a month.

What do you think?