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It’s getting hot in here, so please stay calm: The relationship between heat and aggression

July 31, 2011

Here in Toronto, we’ve been dealing with some very hot temperatures lately. While I’ve heard my share of people complaining that it’s been too hot, I’ve also heard my share of people expressing gratitude for the beautiful weather.

So, I recently thought about what life might be like if the weather were hot throughout the entire year. Then I remembered reading a study in undergrad which indicated that hot cities had higher crime rates. So, I googled the phrase, “Heat and Aggression” and the resultant list provided articles supporting the Heat Hypothesis: that hot temperatures increase aggressive motivations, and in some cases, aggressive behaviours.

People are more likely to get aggressive when the temperatures around them are really high.

People are more likely to get aggressive when the temperatures around them are really high.

Heat and Aggression

Craig Anderson, a psychologist who has been studying the relationship between heat and aggression for over 10 years, has written extensively on this topic. Anderson uses various sources for investigating the relationship between these two variables. One source of data comes from field studies, and another from laboratory settings.

In field studies, crime rates from hotter, southern cities in the United States were compared with crime rates of northern US cities. Other types of field studies compare the rates of aggression-related crime within one city, but at different times of the year. In both cases, cities that reported higher temperatures (consistently above 90-degrees Fahrenheit or 32-degrees Celsius) had higher rates of spousal battering, assault rates, and batters being hit by pitchers. This last example is interesting: Anderson’s research has found that batters are more likely to be hit by a pitch on really hot days than on cooler days.

Research conducted in laboratory settings look at participants’ scores on measures of attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions when temperatures in the lab are very high, and compare it with the results of participants in really cool (or normal) temperature settings. In such cases, people tend to be more “cranky” and interpret things more negatively when they are uncomfortably warm.

So, the next time you are feeling cranky, anxious, or frustrated, pay attention to the temperature around you. It’s likely that you’re attitudes and emotions are being influenced by the external environment. Take a break and do something to cool you off rather than reacting negatively to something that is outside of your control.

Hoping your week is filled with much knowledge, growth, and comfortable temperatures.

(Richard Amaral, Ph.D., is a registered psychologist with a private practice in mid-town Toronto. Click on the About Me tab above for more information or to book a private session.)

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