It’s Raining in My Brain – Why We’re Obsessed with the Weather

weather_girlNote to those working on the reinvention of newspapers — stick to the weather.  Evidently, that’s what we Americans really care about most, or so the numbers in a just-released study seem to show.  From the LiveScience article about the study:

Although the number of forecasts an individual obtains varies significantly from day-to-day, depending on factors like weather events and planned daily activities, the researchers found that on average individuals received forecasts 3.8 times a day. These findings, when extrapolated to the total U.S. adult population of 226 million, indicate that Americans receive a yearly total of about 300 billion forecasts.

And not only are we awash in weather news, we also place a surprisingly high dollar value on weather forecasts — much more than it actually costs to provide them.

The survey indicated that households in this country place an average value of 10.5 cents on every weather forecast obtained. This equates to an annual value of $31.5 billion. In comparison, the cost of providing forecasts by government agencies and private companies is $5.1 billion.

So, what does this tell us about the psyche of the average news consumer?  On the face of it, it simply seems that we’re proccupied with knowing what’s coming next. But perhaps at a level beneath that concern, what we’re really preoccupied with is our mood.  According to a study from some years back entitled, “A multidimensional approach to the relationship between mood and weather,” the psychology of weather is more important than most of us think, affecting our moods and outlooks in substantial ways. From the study:

Humidity, temperature and hours of sunshine had the greatest effect on mood. High levels of humidity lowered scores on concentration while increasing reports of sleepiness. Rising temperatures lowered anxiety and scepticism mood scores. 

The number of hours of sunshine was found to predict optimism scores significantly. As the number of hours of sunshine increased, optimism scores also increased.

And there was a University of Michigan study in 2004 concluding that warm weather “boosts moods and broadens minds.”  According to that one, 72 degrees fahrenheit is the optimal mood-boost temperature, with mood fluctuations occurring at temps significantly higher or lower. 

Then there was this study (PDF) from 2005 entitled, “A Warm Heart and a Clear Head” that also makes a strong case for the weather-mood connection. From the study:

Pleasant weather (higher temperature or barometric pressure) was related to higher mood, better memory, and ‘‘broadened’’ cognitive style during the spring as time spent outside increased. The same relationships between mood and weather were not observed during other times of year, and indeed hotter weather was associated with lower mood in the summer.

Plenty of other research indicates the same thing, which leads me to believe that our rabid consumption of weather forecasts, and the high value we place on them, is about more than ensuring that we’ll have a sunny day at the beach.  I think we’re also trying to find out if it’ll be a sunny day in our heads.

4 Comments

Filed under About Research

4 responses to “It’s Raining in My Brain – Why We’re Obsessed with the Weather

  1. I find this a fascinating topic because I most definitely fall under the “weirdo weather buff” category.

    However, being a native to the desert where temperatures hang out in the 100s with plenty of sunshine, I find that my mood deteriorates with extreme weather. Perhaps it is because clouds, rain, and cool air are a rarity here, but I find that the “not-so-popular” weather has the opposite affect on my mood- I feel rejuvenated, pleasant, and energetic when it’s cold and rainy. Odd, huh? I would be extremely curious to see studies done on those who live in hot, dry, sunny climates and the affects of weather on their mood. Would it be the same as those who live in places like Seattle?

    As a side note, I hope you don’t mind my nosing around on your blog. A friend sent me the URL, and this particular entry caught my eye.

  2. Thanks for the comment. All are welcome here, so enjoy!

  3. Tamra’s comments are interesting to me in light of your article. The idea that the unusual weather is what affects mood seems to be down the right path, regardless of whether it’s “nice” weather or not.

    I live in Sweden and have come to doubt what everyone here says about what winter “does” to people. Since it’s cold and dark, they say, people get moody and possibly depressed.
    But I originally come from a part of Canada on the same latitude but with much more extreme weather in the summer and winter. People’s moods there don’t descend into the dark “svårmod” supposedly common in Sweden.
    I would imagine the dark moods here, then, are either more cultural than environmental or have more relation to the steady winter weather patterns than with the light conditions.

    Though some dark days are a real, real drag…

    Great blog David, I read regularly!

  4. yay google is my queen aided me to find this outstanding site! .

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