Lunar Phase Effect on Criminal Activity and Crisis Calls: Does a Correlation Exist?
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
LEFLET, B. R. (1999). Lunar Phase Effect on Criminal Activity and Crisis Calls: Does a Correlation Exist?. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 2. Available online at Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

Lunar Phase Effect on Criminal Activity and Crisis Calls: Does a Correlation Exist?
Missouri Western State University DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (
The belief that changes in lunar phases may effect human behavior is a superstition that has been handed down through generations. Unusual or inappropriate behavior has often been justified by the occurrence of a full moon. This widely believed phenomenon caught the attention of researchers and has been the focus of multiple studies to determine the validity of lunar effects on human behavior. The purpose of this study will be to determine if there is a relationship between lunar phases and criminal activity and crisis calls.

In an attempt improve upon prior studies, Rotton and Kelly (1985) devised the Belief in Lunar Effects (BILE) Scale that would provide a basis for reliable and valid data for current and future research. Volunteer participants completed questionnaires about their sex, age, race, religion, and education before completing the BILE form. Answers to the scale`s nine statements ranged from number one, strong disagreement, to number nine, strong agreement. Three questions measured belief in the lunar phenomenon and two questions each for social desirability and personality, locus of control, and authoritarianism. The results of the BILE scale indicated that while men and women scores were almost the same, there was a definite greater belief in lunar effects on behavior in the older participants than in the younger ones. No correlation existed between the scores based on educational factors. Rotton and Kelly (1985) determined that belief in lunar effects appears to be based on age and not on social class or education. A study done by Jorgenson in 1981 concluded that persons with an external locus of control were more likely to believe in lunar effects on human behavior than would persons who possess an internal locus of control. However, Rotton and Kelly`s BILE scale discounted Jorgenson`s findings (Rotton & Kelly, 1985). Rotton, Kelly, and Elortegui did a follow-up study in 1986 to determine if belief in lunar effect on human behavior was more predominant in two groups of professionals than among other groups. Their hypothesis was that police officers and people working in psychiatric areas would display a higher belief in lunar effect than a random group of individuals. The personal information questionnaire and the BILE survey were given to an equal number of men and women and to an equal number of police, psychiatric workers, and random individuals. As expected, police exhibited a high belief in lunar effect as opposed to a lower belief by the random individuals. However, psychiatric care workers responses were similar to the random individuals` and did not confirm a high belief in lunar effect on human behavior. It was concluded that the psychiatric group might have been influenced by articles in recent scientific journals regarding research being done in this area (Rotton, Kelly & Elortegui, 1986). A study done by Vance in 1995 gave results that differed from Rotton, Kelly, and Elortegui`s study done in 1986. Vance targeted adults living in Kentucky, with no distinction between age, education, or occupation. Participants were given a set of forced-answer questions on varying topics, including two about the effect on lunar behavior on human behavior. Results were compared by occupation and indicated that health care workers, mental health professionals, and clerical employees held a higher belief in the lunar effect on behavior than did people in the education field, students, and the unemployed (Vance, 1995). Police and fire stations receive incoming crisis calls every day that vary in urgency and type of call. A possible connection between calls to police and fire departments has been reviewed in four different studies. The first, done in 1979 by Frey, Rotton, and Barry examined 14 types of calls made to police, fire, and ambulance stations. A multitude of calls, including fire, homicide, rape, assault, vandalism, and suicides, were tracked for a two year period of time in a large mideastern city. Results indicated that only the suicide calls appeared to have any consistency with the folklore surrounding human behavior during a full moon (Byrnes & Kelly, 1992). Purpura (1979) compared the number of incoming calls during full moon periods to the number of calls during non-full moon periods. Incoming calls for breaking and entering, assault, disorderly conduct, robberies, drunkenness, and shoplifting were recorded over a five-year period of time. Results indicated that there was no significant difference in police calls during the lunar cycle. Breaking and entering was the only category that appeared to be more likely to occur during a full moon period. However, Byrnes and Kelly believe that inconsistencies in Purpura`s study may offset the results of his findings (Byrnes & Kelly, 1992). Templer, Brooner, and Corgiat (1983) examined lunar phase and calls for police assistance over a three-year period. Lunar phases used in their study were the day before and after the full moon, the day before and after new moon, and all other days classed together. Because the results were contradictory, they refined their analysis using hierarchical multiple regression to determine if results were effected by month, weekday, holiday, and lunar phase. Their results indicated that at no time did lunar phase have any significant impact on the number of incoming emergency calls ((Byrnes & Kelly, 1992). Wagner and Almeida studied police emergency calls over a two-year period in 1987. While the number of disorderly conduct and vandalism reports were slightly higher, they concluded that there was no significant relationship between the number of emergency calls and the different lunar phases (Byrnes & Kelly, 1992). Folklore continues to prevail regarding the effects of lunar changes on human behavior despite empirical evidence to the contrary. Based on a three-year study of crisis calls, Bickis, Kelly, and Byrnes (1995) determined that there appears to be some consistency in daily cycles of events. More calls are made on Fridays and Saturdays while the least number of calls are made on Mondays. In addition, differences during the calendar year indicated increased activity in the summer months and the lowest number of calls in January. While it is clear that there are correlations between calendar days, they concurred with previous studies with their inability to find a consistent relationship between lunar changes and human behavior (Bickis, Kelly, & Byrnes, 1995). Despite the research studies that repeatedly deny the validity of the effect of lunar changes on human behavior, folklore and superstition continue to prevail and perpetuate the myth.

Participants Participants included individuals arrested by law officials and emergency calls made within the St. Joseph, Missouri area. The arrests only included men and women over the age of seventeen because individuals under the age of seventeen are considered to be juveniles and their arrest records were not available for public knowledge. Materials and Procedures Data for criminal activity and emergency calls was collected from the daily police reports printed in the St. Joseph News-Press for a two-month period beginning July 17, 1999, and ending September 12, 1999. For the purpose of this study, the definition of criminal activity includes the following categories: hit-and-run accidents, vandalism, theft and robberies, alcohol and drug related arrests, disorderly conduct, assault, murder, rape, and other arrests. The other arrests category includes, but is not limited to, non-violent crimes such as failure to appear in court, non-support, probation violation, driving with a revoked license, passing bad checks, forgery, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Also accounted for in the study will be fire and emergency assistance calls logged in and reported by the police dispatch. Each reported incident was tabulated and recorded in the appropriate crime or fire and emergency call category. Each incident was recorded for the day that the crime or crisis call occurred and not for the day that it was reported in the newspaper. For the purpose of this study, a lunar phase is defined as the three days before, the day of, and the three days after each of the following four lunar phases: new moon, waxing moon, full moon, and waning moon.

A comparison of the amount of criminal activity during each lunar phase was done applying a one-way ANOVA. The results of this study are similar to those of previous studies, which found no significant difference in criminal activity and fire and emergency calls between the full moon phase and the other lunar phases (F(3,52) = .621, p>.05). The means of the criminal activity and crisis calls per day were 40.14 for the waxing phase, 34.36 for the full moon phase, 35.57 for the waning phase, and 38.14 for the new moon phase.

On the basis of this study, it may be concluded that common folklore concerning the effect of the changes in lunar phase and human behavior is unsubstantiated. One limitation of this study may be that the observation period was conducted for two months, which is a relatively short period of time. It does, however, agree with large-scale studies that were conducted for longer periods of time. Bickis, Kelly, and Byrnes (1995), for example, conducted their research over a period of three years and came to the same conclusions as this study. Another criteria that could be viewed as a limitation of this study was the size of the city and surrounding area in which the criminal activity and crisis call data was obtained. However, Rotton, Kelly, and Elortegui (1986) based their study on Miami, Florida, and Bickis, Kelly, and Byrnes (1995) focused on Vancouver, Canada. Results from both of these studies, based on cities with large populations, were comparable to the results of this present study. The belief that human behavior is effected by lunar changes will probably always be accepted by the general population. However, this belief may influence the judgement and decision-making of those in authority positions in the law enforcement field because of expectations of a full moon effect. The study done by Rotton, Kelly, and Elortegui (1986) concluded that law enforcement personnel do hold a high belief in the lunar effect. Future research should be done to determine why and how these individuals uphold their belief without the presence of supporting empirical data.

Bickis, M., Kelly, I.W., & Byrnes, G. (1995). Crisis calls and temporal and lunar variables: A comprehensive examination. The Journal of Psychology, 129, 701-711. Byrnes, G. & Kelly, I.W. (1992). Crisis calls and lunar cycles: A twenty-year review. Psychological Reports, 71, 779-785. Rotton, J. & Kelly, I.W. (1985). A scale for assessing belief in lunar effects: Reliability and concurrent validity. Psychological Reports, 57, 239-245. Rotton, J., Kelly, I.W., & Elortegui, P. (1986). Assessing belief in lunar effects: Known groups validation. Psychological Reports, 59, 171-174. Vance, D. (1995). Belief in lunar effects on human behavior. Psychological Reports, 76, 32-34.

Submitted 12/2/99 12:09:40 PM
Last Edited 12/2/99 12:28:51 PM
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