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Mental Health Center

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Does Steamy Weather Lead to Hot Tempers?

WebMD Health News

July 20, 2000 -- There's road rage, air rage, and even youth sports rage. And now, as a triple-digit heat wave sweeps across the Southeast and Midwest, experts suggest there may also be "heat rage."

So far, the scorching heat has been blamed for the deaths of about 12 Texas residents and possibly five in Louisiana, but heat rage may take even more casualties. For example, domestic violence usually reaches its peak during the summer months, according to the Wichita, Kan., Police Department. Domestic abuse cases typically number about 700 in June, July, or August, and around 500 in February or March, they report.

A new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that aggression and violence seem to peak in hot weather. But not when it's too hot: During daytime hours and in the warmer months, when the temperature gets unbearable, people's tempers seem to cool.

"When it gets really hot, people would rather escape the heat than fight," says Paul Bell, PhD, a professor of psychology at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. This pattern was seen in both Dallas and Minneapolis, according to study authors James Rotton, PhD, an associate professor of psychology, and Ellen G. Cohn, PhD, an associate professor of criminal justice, both at Florida International University in Miami. Overall, more aggravated assaults occurred at moderately high temperatures than at either very low or very high temperatures, the new study shows.

To arrive at their findings, the researchers compared temperatures over a two-year period with the more than 18,600 calls to the Dallas Police Department reporting aggravated assaults during that time. The same researchers did a similar study in Minneapolis in 1997.

Heat rage may peak in the evenings because people may drink alcohol rather than water to beat the heat, and "alcohol increases the probability of aggressive behavior," the researchers write.

Arthur Bachrach, PhD, a psychologist in Taos, N.M., spent 18 years studying extreme environments, including underwater, cold, and heat, for the U.S. Navy. "With heat, in particular, there is no way to escape, but you can protect yourself from the cold by wearing warm clothing," Bachrach tells WebMD.

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