Why wind drives people crazy

by Marc Wilson / 20 May, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - Wind psychology

Photo/Getty Images

There are few treatises on the psychology of the wind, but there's no doubt it's a stressor.

Wellington can get a bit windy. I’ve heard it suggested that you can spot the Wellingtonians when they visit Auckland, because they’re the ones toppling over on Queen St without something to lean into.

I was thinking about the wind after one of those nights when you lie awake repeating to yourself, “Please let the roof stay on. Please let the roof stay on.”

Wellington has an average daily wind speed at least a third higher than that of Chicago, with which it shares the nickname “Windy City”. In the book New Zealand Wit & Wisdom, compiled by Jim Weir, there are numerous references to our capital’s wind, including a 100-year-old excerpt from Sydney’s Bulletin that states: “When a Wellington man’s hat is blown off, he never thinks of running after it. He just waits and collars the next one that comes along.” Ha, what Wellingtonian would wear a hat? Or carry an umbrella.

Anecdotal accounts suggest that the wind can affect our physical and psychological well-being. In terms of man-made furores, it doesn’t get more dramatic than wind turbine syndrome, the malaise reportedly experienced by those living close to wind farms. The range of more than 200 symptoms is wide and includes headaches, nausea and sleep and mood disturbances.

Without diminishing the distress felt by those who believe they experience these symptoms because of wind turbines, the consensus is that the syndrome doesn’t exist. One reason for its apparent effects is offered by Fiona Crichton, who has shown in numerous studies that the likely culprit is the nocebo effect – believing wind farms make you sick can create the experience of being ill. She has also found that educating people about this effect can alleviate the symptoms.

Fiona Crichton.

There’s a surprising lack of scholarly interest in any effect on well-being associated with naturally occurring wind. Victoria University emeritus professor Tony Taylor wrote in 1974 about the treatment of a wind-phobic woman in Wellington, something he notes is surprisingly rare even for a city “in which the wind rages”. In this case study, Taylor describes a woman’s four-year struggle with the wind that prevented her from leaving home and saw her preoccupied with watching the curtains for signs of impending wind, among other behaviours.

The genesis of this phobia? April 1968’s Cyclone Giselle, during which 51 people lost their lives in the Wahine ferry disaster. In light of the events of the storm, a phobia doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable. This story has a happy ending, though, with the woman achieving remission after several months of therapy.

But this is a rare case, and there are few treatises on the psychology of the wind. Does this mean it doesn’t really affect us? The answer is a sensible no – it can and does, but not all of us feel it to the same extent. Within the broad area of environmental psychology, wind is considered a stressor that increases our physiological and psychological arousal. This excitation may make people particularly sensitive to what’s going on around them. They may, for example, respond more aggressively than usual to otherwise trivial interactions, because they’re more on edge.

Whether we’re affected depends on our own baseline response to environmental stress. If you’re new to Wellington, you might experience the everyday wind as a threat to your normal levels of comfort, whereas a hardy Wellingtonian may get worked up only when the wind is unusually strong, even for us. Like the other night.

This article was first published in the April 7, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

Inside the close-knit community that lives along the Cromwell-Tarras Rd
102505 2019-02-19 00:00:00Z Travel

Inside the close-knit community that lives along t…

by Mike White

Mike White heads up the Cromwell-Tarras road to merino and wine country.

Read more
The stars of Luther talk about their return in season five
102486 2019-02-18 13:16:40Z Television

The stars of Luther talk about their return in sea…

by The Listener

Idris Elba, Ruth Wilson, Hermione Norris, Wunmi Mosaku and Michael Smiley answer questions about the future of the dark and disturbing crime drama.

Read more
Vital evidence in Pike River mine disaster missing, say families
102465 2019-02-18 09:22:49Z Planet

Vital evidence in Pike River mine disaster missing…

by RNZ

Some families of Pike River mine victims suspect a piece of vital evidence may have been spirited away by the mining company and lost.

Read more
It's time to empower the mayor and make Auckland liveable again
102432 2019-02-17 00:00:00Z Politics

It's time to empower the mayor and make Auckland l…

by Bill Ralston

Making Auckland a liveable city is an unenviable task, writes Bill Ralston, but it's clear the mayor needs more power.

Read more
Knight star: Sir Hec Busby on his extraordinary life
102328 2019-02-17 00:00:00Z Profiles

Knight star: Sir Hec Busby on his extraordinary li…

by Clare de Lore

Northland kaumātua, master carver, navigator and bridge builder Hec Busby was hoping for “no fuss” when he accepted a knighthood.

Read more
Keira Knightley shines in bodice-ripping period drama Colette
102397 2019-02-16 00:00:00Z Movies

Keira Knightley shines in bodice-ripping period dr…

by James Robins

The story of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, a heroine of French literature, focuses on her early struggles.

Read more
Is barbecued meat bad for your health?
102255 2019-02-16 00:00:00Z Nutrition

Is barbecued meat bad for your health?

by Jennifer Bowden

Sizzling meat on the barbecue is the sound and smell of summer, but proceed with caution.

Read more
March of the Algorithms: Who’s at the wheel in the age of the machine?
102434 2019-02-16 00:00:00Z Tech

March of the Algorithms: Who’s at the wheel in the…

by Jenny Nicholls

Complacently relying on algorithms can lead us over a cliff – literally, in the case of car navigation systems.

Read more