Hot and Bothered: Does heat make people aggressive?

Reaching your “boiling point” may be an accurate description

As the summer months creep closer and we experience more humid days, some people are starting to get a little ‘hot under the collar’.

But how does the warm weather affect our feelings and behaviour?

The relationship between heat and aggression is complicated. During the 1960s, the civil disturbances and riots that raged throughout America during the summer months gave rise to the expression “long hot summer.”

This phrase reflected the common belief that hot weather made people behave aggressively and that the amount of violence was closely related to the temperature. However, it is hard to say for sure if the heat was directly causing the problem.

Wanting to explore the nature of the relationship between heat and aggression in a more scientific way was the impetus behind an extensive program of laboratory research. Most of these studies placed individuals in situations where they could behave aggressively, often by administering electric shocks to another person. Usually, these “sham-shock” studies uncovered an “inverted U-shaped” relationship in which aggression increases with temperature up to a certain point but then decreases if temperatures start going even higher.

The conclusion of the research is at odds with the results of field research, which indicates that rising temperatures are always accompanied by increases in violent behaviour. Scientists have used archival sources from cities across the United States to gather data on the rates of murder, rape, assault, robbery, burglary, and motor vehicle theft. Interestingly, it confirmed that violent crime increases with temperature but that nonviolent crime does not. In such field studies, hotter regions of the world and hotter years, seasons, months, and days are all linked with more aggression.

Even more, interestingly, individuals who are exposed to warm temperatures were less likely to do nice things for others, or be willing to help others. In fact, drivers are more likely to sound their horns at stalled cars if they do not have air-conditioning in their cars on hot days.

While additional studies and research may well be in order, the take-home message is that responding to heat in a negative way is very much a human thing—so if you find yourself getting a little testy with those around you this summer, relax; it isn’t just you. And stay cool!

To talk to RSY about our air-conditioning solutions get in touch.


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