Many believe that the sun makes us happy and rain brings sorrow. In reality, the relationship between weather and emotions is much cloudier.
Scientists have investigated this topic from various perspectives. For example, it has been found that the weather plays a role in how people evaluate their satisfaction with life. Studies have been also carried out to explore its relationships with stock market investing behaviours and the amount of tips given in restaurants.
The effects of weather have some physiological effects as well – damp weather lowers our systolic blood pressure and cold weather slightly raises blood pressure. However, emotions and blood pressure are not directly related to each other. It is worth noting that sunshine does facilitate production of the hormone serotonin, which regulates memory, sleeping, appetite and mood.
Why research weather and emotions in Estonia?
Estonia is a good location for such research because of its four, clearly distinguished seasons.
Doctoral candidate in psychology Liisi Kööts and her supervisors Jüri Allik and Anu Realo decided to compare weather data with individuals’ self-evaluated emotions.
Such research has not been previously carried out and no direct relationship has been found between everyday mood changes and weather characteristics. It has been determined, however, that the sun amplifies both negative and positive emotions.
The research was carried out in Tartu and featured two study groups. The first group consisted of pensioners selected from visitors to Tartu day centres for seniors, monitored during autumn. The other group comprised students who were monitored during spring semester. The study included 110 participants.
All participants carried a small computer device that reminded them to mark down their location (home, work, taking a walk outside, etc.) and evaluate their mood (angry, happy, scared, sad, surprised etc.) 7 times a day. The participants also had to record whether they were sleepy, experiencing physical pain or disappointment.
All of the data received were then compared with Tartu’s weather data during the same period: figures regarding temperature, relative humidity, barometric pressure were all considered, as well as if it was overcast or sunny. All participants also completed personality tests.
Rising temperatures amplify emotions
During the 14 days of the study, older people experienced significantly more positive and less negative emotions. Another surprising find was that the elderly felt tired less often than the students.
Both positive and negative emotions intensified with rising temperatures. Sunlight amplified more positive emotions. Rising temperatures and increased sunlight also made participants feel less tired, contrary to common belief that warmth makes people sleepy.
The researchers noted that the study was carried out during spring and fall and therefore cannot be extrapolated to make assumptions about the effects of summer heat. Older people were less affected by the temperature, but felt tired more often during the warmer days.
Emotional states are very complex, affected by such diverse stimuli as personal factors, work stress, quality of sleep, social and physical activity, and many chemical processes occurring in the brain, acknowledges Kööts in her work.
The article indicates that common beliefs about how the weather affects our emotions are to a large degree untrue – weather might play only a very small role amongst other factors. Common beliefs about the weather might originate from times when the forces of nature had a much more direct impact on people’s lives.
Kööts, L., Realo, A., & Allik, J. (2011). The Influence of the Weather on Affective Experience Journal of Individual Differences, 32 (2), 74-84 DOI: 10.1027/1614-0001/a000037