The heat can test tempers.
Hot weather can make us snap at our spouse, yell at the kids, curse fellow drivers and glare at the store clerk.
There’s a physiological reason for the frayed nerves, and for why someone who is normally a mild-mannered “cool head” becomes a grouchy “hothead” in the summer.
The heat increases heart rate and other changes related to the automatic “fight or flight” response to danger, says Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University.
“If you ask people to describe how they feel in the heat, they’ll say, ‘Oh I feel sluggish, I feel drained of energy, my energy level is sapped.’” But the opposite occurs, Bushman says. “When people are physiologically aroused they overreact to everything.”
But can the heat make us more than cranky?
It’s debatable, but Bushman has been studying aggression and violence for 25 years, and he says “there’s a very robust link between hot temperatures and aggressive and violent behaviors.”
He looked at a 55-year period and found that violent crime is higher in hotter summers than cooler ones. “It’s only the violent crime that is affected by heat,” he says. “So people aren’t more likely to steal, like steal a car for example, but they are more likely to get into a fight.”
When people are physiologically aroused they overreact to everything.
Brad Bushman, professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University
Bushman says no one connects violence to climate change, but they should. “”This is not going to go away. So we need to be proactive about fighting climate change in the long-term, and in the short-term we need to be more patient with each other.”
It’s difficult to prove that there’s direct link between heat and violence. And correctional officers at the Fresno County Jail have not seen a huge spike in bookings for fights or other violent crimes since the current heat wave began last week, says Fresno County sheriff ‘s spokesman Tony Botti. “Historically, the sheriff’s department sees an increase in alcohol consumption in the summer and that can lead to more people getting into fights,” he says.
Bushman says an increase in drinking alcohol in the summer could be part of the reason for an increase in aggression. But he says heat is an extreme stresser and we’re “hardwired” to have a flight-or-flight response to it.
Jason Christopherson, a psychologist at the Sullivan Center for Children in Fresno, says there’s no solid evidence to show that heat will cause someone with no signs of psychological problems to become a violent person. “But if you’re an angry person, you’re probably going to be more agitated and angry during a heat wave.”
There is evidence to support that psychiatric illnesses can be exacerbated by the heat, he says. A 2008 study published in Australia found there was an almost 10 percent increase in psychiatric hospitalizations during heat waves, Christopherson says.
Bushman agrees that a violent reaction to the heat is a rare event. But he says: “I would like to know how do you treat strangers; are you more inpatient with other drivers on the road? How do you treat your children; how do you treat your neighbors? And how do you treat the cashier at the grocery store?”
The high in Fresno on Wednesday was 107 – not a record, but continuing the string of triple-digit days.
The heat continues Thursday with a high of 109 predicted in Fresno. That would break the record of 108 set in 1981. Triple digits continue through the weekend and Monday before conditions cool into the upper 90s on Tuesday, the National Weather Service said.
Fresno is being blistered by a long streak of triple-digit temperatures. Compare the daily temperatures this year (including what’s forecast) with last year at this time.
Source: National Weather Service
Events canceled due to heat wave
▪ The Rock the Mall, a free concert scheduled Thursday at Sierra Vista Mall in Clovis, has been rescheduled to June 29.
The Friday “Rockin’ the Arbor” concert in Lemoore has been canceled, and will return on July 7.