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What Does Your Birthday Say About You? The Seasonal Birth Effect

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Channel: The Royal Institution
Categories: Biology   |   Health   |   Science  
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Does the month you were born in determine whether you’re right handed, or a smoker, or short-sighted? No, we’re not talking astrology, but something called the seasonal birth effect. But can even that be trusted? Subscribe:

The seasonal birth effect is the idea that the development of certain characteristics is linked to the time of year a person is born. Various studies have linked time of birth to a gaggle of characteristics, from handedness to disease susceptibility.

The theory goes that environmental differences during winter and summer pregnancies cause physiological changes that impact early development. For example, increased exposure to sunlight during a summer pregnancy may cause an increase in oxidative stress, which in turn could lead to slight tweaks to the internal conditions for the developing baby.

But do these studies that claim to have found a link between x trait and y season prove that your birthday dictates your development? No. All it means is that in those specific data sets, the researchers managed to find a link. That doesn’t mean it applies universally, and it definitely doesn’t mean the one is necessarily causing the other. You are not defined by your birthday.

This film is part of our new series that will provide the blueprint for a scientifically perfect summer. From sweating to hay fever, insects to jet lag, Kate Mulcahy will help you hack summer to engineer the perfect season. Taking a different topic each Thursday, the videos will gradually build up an equation for summer perfection; a summer survival guide certified by science.
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Riala, K. et al. (2009) Season of birth and smoking: findings from the northern Finland 1966 birth cohort. Chronobiology International 26(8): 1660-1672
Marzulo, G. and Clarke Fraser, F. (2009) Conception season and cerebral asymmetries among American baseball players: Implications for the seasonal birth effect in schizophrenia. Psychiatry Research 167(3): 287-293
Mandel, Y. et al. (2008) Season of birth, natural light, and myopia. Ophthalmology 115(4): 686-692
Davies. G. et al. (2003) A systematic review and meta-analysis of Northern Hemisphere season of birth studies in schizophrenia. Schizophrenia Bulletin 29 (3): 587-593

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