Sunny smiles

Boosts in mood, memory and cognition are some ways spring weather can potentially affect the mind, according to recent studies conducted by the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics.

A series of three studies from 2001 through 2003 found the amount of time people spend outdoors and the mild warmth of spring has an effect on mood and cognition, or openness to new ideas. The people that spent 30 to 45 minutes outdoors during the spring reported having a better mood than those who spent less time outdoors.

Mike Zickar, associate professor of psychology, said that the sunlight triggers our biological clock that determines when we get up and when we go to bed.

“A lack of sunlight throws off our internal biological clock,” Zickar said. He said he’s heard about some connection between mood, weather and region.

“I know Seattle has some of the smallest amounts of sunlight and some of the highest suicide rates,” Zickar said.

Azita Afsharzadehyazdi, a post-doctoral faculty fellow in psychology, said the amount of exercise and movement a person gets in the spring can also affect moods.

“When you’re up and about, it releases [lactic acid] that builds up in the muscles and causes tension,” Afsharzadehyazdi said.

Exercise also releases endorphins, the feel-good chemicals naturally produced in our bodies, which we may tend to get more of in the spring and summer, she said.

The studies were led by Matthew C. Keller, postdoctoral fellow at the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics and factored in not only the temperature, but the pressure, or how clear the day was. The first study found that the higher temperatures and pressure were associated with higher moods in the participants that spent more than 30 minutes outside.

While the exposure to higher temperatures in the spring showed an improvement in mood during the spring, the higher temperatures in the summer had an opposite effect on emotions.

Another study done in 2001 by Craig Anderson, a professor at Iowa State University, showed a link between temperatures and behavior. The higher temperatures increased the occurrence of violent behavior.

BG feels the effects

Laura Lengel, associate professor of communication studies, said she notices a significant change in her emotions when the weather gets nicer. The changes in the weather that come during spring show a positive effect on her mood.

“I’ve always very much welcomed the coming of spring and the longer days – I’ve always felt better,” Lengel said. “I see spring as almost a spiritual awakening after the long, dark winter days.”

Though Lengel is an Ohio native who has experienced the Lake Erie winters, she said she’s never gotten used to the dark, cold days of winter.

The difference the warmer weather makes in her mood is very obvious to her when she travels to warmer regions.

“I do a lot of research in the Mediterranean region,” Lengel said. “When I go there, I feel so much more emotionally and spiritually at home with the warmer weather, blue skies and azure waters of the Mediterranean sea.”

Derek White, freshman, said that his mood gets better in the spring, but mostly due to the fact that school is almost out.

“It’s just in winter, you can’t do certain things,” White said.

Jennifer Schulte, freshman, said her mood is better in the spring due to the nicer weather and the end of the school year.

“I have an urge to be outside more,” Schulte said.

She said her mood gets better, not only during warm weather, but when it’s sunnier out.

Skipping classes during the warmer weather to catch some rays isn’t something White or Schulte said they would typically do.

“I’m more likely to skip when it’s cold out because I don’t want to walk [to class],” White said.