How January’s darkness affects mood, IQ, and sex desire


Seasonal changes affect our behavior and choices. Use this natural variance to your advantage.

Winter continues in the northern hemisphere despite the shortest day. Many find January the darkest month after the holidays.

Not just our emotions are influenced. A new Perspectives on Psychological Science research examines how seasons affect human brains, from sexual cravings to intellect and social activities.

While Canada geese and black bears alter their behavior to the season, these tiny differences in human psychology have been less studied, yet they may be crucial to understanding our decision-making and health.

Some remarkable results that drew researchers’ attention:

Many things might cause winter blues and Sad. A common notion is that low light levels disrupt the body’s “circadian rhythm” and impede emotional processing neurotransmitters. This has prompted light therapy, which utilizes Sun-like lights to reset the biological clock, however a 2019 Cochrane Systematic Review found minimal evidence for its protective effects.

Recent study by health psychologist Kari Leibowitz reveals attitudes may also be involved. In collaboration with Joar Vittersø at the University of Tromsø, Leibowitz surveyed Norwegians from different locations about their winter sentiments. They were asked to score their agreement with phrases like “winter is an especially beautiful time of year”; “I love the cosiness of winter months”; and “I like the soft light we have during winter months”. Leibowitz and Vittersø discovered that those who strongly agreed with these assertions had stronger coping mechanisms for cold and dark, resulting in increased life satisfaction and good feelings throughout winter.


Winter depression, termed as “Seasonal Affective Disorder” (Sad), is increasingly acknowledged. At least two weeks of depression or worry, despair, worthlessness, low energy, overeating, and oversleeping are symptoms.

Many individuals have a gloomy mood without being clinically depressed. Research shows that the “winter blues” are common. Cornell University researchers in Ithaca, New York, analyzed 509 million tweets from 84 nations in the early 2010s. Users used less positive phrases as daylight hours decreased, affecting the emotional quality of submissions.

A altered perspective may not cure acute Sad, but Leibowitz demonstrates that many of us may battle the blues by seeing and embracing winter’s natural beauty.

Mindsets influence many other phenomena, as we know. Anxiety disorders are associated with “catastrophising” and other unpleasant, fearful thoughts. Cognitive behavioural therapy may enhance mental health by helping individuals see the problem more objectively. This talking therapy may also help with Sadness. In the year’s worst months, similar tactics might improve our spirits.

Concentration and memory

You may not be alone if you see your mental sharpness dulling in the daytime. Sanne Mooldijk and colleagues at Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, analyzed data from a longitudinal study of over 10,000 45-year-olds. Winter assessments indicated somewhat lower learning, memory, and focus scores than summer assessments.

We don’t know what causes this seasonal change. Depressed persons have trouble thinking rationally, which may explain their low cognitive performance. It might also be a winter vitamin D deficiency, which benefits brain function. Our skin produces vitamin D when exposed to sunshine, and although we may absorb it from some foods, it is difficult to receive enough from our diet alone. Many individuals in higher latitudes struggle to receive adequate vitamin D due to short winter days and poor weather.

Scientists may be able to explain the surge in dementia cases by investigating this process. A minor drop in mental acuity throughout winter may exacerbate cognitive impairment, causing more persons to satisfy dementia criteria.

Society and sex

Emerging research shows that “warm” and “cold” behavior may represent historic links between ambient temperature and social connectedness, notwithstanding our metaphorical labels.

The hypothesis of “social thermoregulation” states that people evolved to seek bodily comfort from others. We’re like emperor penguins and other animals who instinctively gather to exchange heat.

If this idea is correct, cooler temperatures should encourage socializing. A team headed by Hans IJzerman at the Université Grenoble Alpes, France, encouraged participants to hold hot or cold beverages while filling out questionnaires about their thoughts to test this hypothesis. He observed that individuals with cold beverages were more likely to think about close loved ones to satisfy their social connection needs than those with hot drinks. This assumed that individuals had stable and supportive relationships, whereas some participants did not.

Our film-watching habits provide further proof. Online movie rental data shows that as the temperature lowers, individuals choose romance films over other genres, a conclusion replicated in several lab trials. A heart-warming movie seems to satisfy our developed need for emotional warmth and love caused by the cold.

Our sexual cycle is more complicated. Villanova University in Pennsylvania and Rutgers University in New Jersey found that Google users search pornography more in deep mid-winter and early summer. They also search more for dating sites. Again, numerous reasons are certainly involved, but the wintertime increase may reflect our need for more interpersonal interaction. This volatility affects health, since subsequent studies show a spike and decline in sexually-transmitted illnesses during the same periods.

Scientists may find additional cycles in human behavior caused by biology and culture with future investigation. With more information, we can explain our behavior changes. We may combat the winter blues and enjoy the new year by adopting a more cheerful outlook, forgiving ourselves for forgetfulness, and making more specific preparations to meet our increasing social requirements.

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