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Does Crime Heat Up Over the Summer?

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on June 04, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Ice cream, swimming pools, and crime -- ah, summer.

Over the weekend, New York City saw its warmest weather so far this year, and as it turns out, the weekend was also marked by violence. The sweltering Big Apple had 25 shootings in a span of 48 hours, leading many to believe there's a correlation between heat and violence, reports Gothamist.

But does heat really inspire crime?

Crime Rises With Temperatures ... To a Point

The link between violence and hot weather is intuitive but questionable, reports Wired magazine.

To explore the link between heat and crime, one study conducted at Florida State University examined violent crime over a two-year period in Minneapolis, reports The Atlantic. The study noted that violent crime rises with temperature -- but only up to a point. Psychologists Ellen Cohn and James Rotton obvserved that "at low to moderate levels of discomfort, people lash out, but at high levels they just want to flee."

So once the heat rises to an uncomfortable temperature, violence drops, perhaps because heat-induced lethargy sets in. Think cats cramped in an apartment with no air conditioning. Like that.

Other Potential Explanations

But other psychologists balk at the study and offer other hypotheses on the burning correlation. Craig Anderson at Iowa State University, for example, argues that in hot weather "the body exhibits changes -- increased heart rate, blood circulation and sweating, and metabolic changes -- associated with sympathetic nervous system activity, which in turn is linked to fight-or-flight responses."

Anderson also points to testosterone as a potential culprit for turning friends to foes in the summertime. Hot weather apparently increases the natural production of testosterone.

In a piece for the Boston Globe, James Alan Fox came to a similar conclusion in drawing a link between heat waves and crime waves. His findings show that "temperature has some effect on violence in the home, but a much stronger impact on violence in outdoor or commercial settings."

In step with Cohn and Rotton at Florida State, he concludes that violence "tends to decline when temperatures reach the 90s," both inside and outside the home, reports The Atlantic.

But we should all remember that "correlation" is quite different from "causality." As for a definitive causal connection between heat and escalated crime, Wired's Brandon Keim sums it up best: "The answer... is hazy and hotly contested."

Simmer down, folks!

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