Lunar madness

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Supermoon by Brad Scruse (2014) CC-By-NC-ND 2.0, on Flickr [url=https://flic.kr/p/eTjgnP]

Last week, the students I teach in an after school science class were bouncing off the walls. No matter how many times I tried to quiet and refocus the attention of the room, there was always one kid out of his or her chair, a constant barrage of high pitched noise and so many interrupted sets of directions that even *I* wasn’t sure what we were supposed to be doing. By the end of the hour, when I finally released the last student to her grownup, I felt like a wrung-out dishrag.

As I dragged my box of supplies on a collapsible cart out to my car in the parking lot, I managed to knock it over. Twice. The kind school social worker helped me carry the stuff the last 20 feet to my car, when it was clear I was seriously “into the weeds.” She commiserated when I mentioned by rough session with kids, mentioning that school staff had also noticed a spike in behavior issues that week.

At home, a scan of my friends’ posts on social media revealed teachers and parents at their wits’ end dealing with sudden bouts of mass child misbehavior. “Hmm,” I thought, “something is going here.” Then I noticed another common thread in my feed: Supermoon! and The Occultation of Aldebaran.

Could the lunar phase be affecting human kiddos’ behavior? Many terrestrial species are influenced in some way by celestial phenomena. Creatures of the intertidal zone (and their predators) follow daily patterns as ocean tides roll in and out, pulled by the moon’s gravity. Baby sea turtles have higher disorientiation during new moons, when artificial light becomes distraction, which implies they use the moon to help them get back into the ocean after hatching. African dung beetles use the Milky Way to navigate straight paths as they roll balls of dung on clear nights.

Scientific consensus? The moon is probably not affecting my students’ behavior. Statisticians have repeated analyzed the occurrence of events such as crimes, suicides, psychiatric problems and crisis center calls and determined they are entirely unrelated to the phase of the moon. University of
Washington Neuroscience for Kids has a great list of published studies looking at a relationship between weird behavior and moon. Lunar cycles don’t even seem to affect how much sleep kids get.

So why did I blame the full moon? Part of it may come from the human brain’s propensity to look for patterns in what seems like random data. Illusory correlation is the “phenomenon of perceiving a relationship between variables (typically people, events, or behaviors) even when no such relationship exists.” I wanted to see a pattern, so my brain selectively made one for me out of my day’s experiences and news from my FB feed.

I wonder what I’ll notice in a couple of weeks when November 2016 Supermoon will be visible. Sheer lunacy, most likely.

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