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Many People Wrongly Blame the Moon for Craziness

Mar 31, 2015 01:22 PM EDT

When things appear more chaotic than usual, you'll often hear people say "It must be a full moon." However, the Moon is not to blame for life's craziness, according to a new study, which finds that even the most intelligent people will develop strong, entirely wrong beliefs.

For example, in the past it has been suggested that the Moon influences things like automobile accidents, hospital admissions, surgery outcomes, cancer survival rates, menstruation, births, birth complications, depression, violent behavior, and even criminal activity.

"Some nurses ascribe the apparent chaos to the Moon, but dozens of studies show that the belief is unfounded," Jean-Luc Margot, a professor of planetary astronomy at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), who was involved in the research, said in a statement. "The Moon is innocent," he added.

Of course, the Moon does not influence the timing of human births or hospital admissions, Margo and his colleagues say. This only confirms what scientists have already known for decades. However, this wouldn't be the first time that the public and scientists couldn't agree.

This study illustrates that intelligent and otherwise reasonable people develop strong beliefs that are entirely irrational, and not aligned at all with reality.

So in spite of scientific evidence, why do people continue to believe in the wrong thing?

The researchers blame what scientists refer to as the "confirmation bias" - people's tendency to interpret information in a way that confirms their beliefs and ignore data that contradict them. When life is hectic on the day of a full moon, many people remember the association because it confirms their belief. But hectic days that do not correspond with a full moon are quickly ignored and forgotten because they do not reinforce the belief.

According to Margot, there can be significant social costs because of flawed beliefs. For example, the recent measles outbreak appears to have been triggered by parents' questionable beliefs about the safety of the measles vaccine.

"Vaccines are widely and correctly regarded as one of the greatest public health achievements, yet vaccine-preventable diseases are killing people because of beliefs that are out of step with scientific facts," Margot said.

If the public starts to take scientific evidence seriously and consider that their previous beliefs may not be correct, it will create a more accurate view of the world and result in better decision-making.

"Perhaps we can start by correcting our delusions about the Moon, and work from there," he concluded.

The findings were reported in the journal Nursing Research.

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