In recent popular culture, the term “cuffing season” is used to describe the period of time after Halloween into the winter, when people who’ve been single for the majority of the year hope to find themselves in romantic relationships for the chilly months ahead.
While “cuffing season” may seem a product of pure social construction, there is actually a psychological basis to this behavior.
With mid-November bringing the first glimpse of snow, students are beginning to dread the long winter ahead of them. This commonly leads to more time spent indoors with the same people.
Prof. Vivian Zayas, psychology, says there are many factors that contribute to more students pairing up as the weather gets cold. While the beginning of the school year brings a lot of new experiences, such as meeting new people and starting new classes, this excitement can quickly disappear.
“As the semester starts progressing, people start getting tired, and the novelty wears away,” Zayas said. As this happens, along with a decline in grades, students start to feel worse than they did at the start of the semester and this fosters a desire for human companionship, which could be a contributing factor to seasonal affective disorder.
In fact, “cuffing season” can be seen as one method to combat seasonal affective disorder, otherwise known as seasonal depression. Students can find themselves experiencing the mild to extreme effects of SAD during the winter months, when sunlight is less frequent. Research shows that less sunlight is associated with the decreased production of Vitamin D, lower serotonin levels, and overproduction of melatonin, all of which can contribute to depression.
“One way we feel better is to connect with other people,” Zayas said. This connection offers an “effective boost,” which can help students more easily get through a grueling semester.
According to Zayas, another factor that can contribute to the “cuffing season” phenomenon is the close proximity college students are to each other. “We know that proximity is a key factor in who you end up liking,” she said. As the weather gets cold, people spend an increasing amount of time indoors, meaning they are spending more time with the same people. Whereas in warmer months, there is more motivation to participate in different activities.
According to Zayas, the attitudes of students differ with the changing seasons. The spring brings a whole new set of attitudes, such as excitement and novelty, whereas “winter seems more comfort seeking,” she said. While the weather acts as a mood regulator, being with other people can also regulate mood, and the two tend to work hand in hand.
The seasonality of births has been widely researched by psychologists and has been known to be influenced by psychosocial factors. The most predominant seasonal birthing pattern has been coined “The Christmas Effect,” which describes the most common time babies are conceived, resulting in a high number of births during the months of August and September.
Ongoing research shows that this seasonal birthing pattern is not as prevalent among populations where temperatures and climate are more constant, and in colder climates, there are higher rates of conception during the winter months.
One explanation for ‘the Christmas Effect’ is the increase in leisure time around the holidays and more time spent with friends and family, which can be correlated to more time spent indoors due to colder weather. The reasons for this pattern can help draw conclusions as to why there is an increase in relationships among college students around this time of year.
As the semester tredges on, students may find themselves more weighed down in school work and the looming stress of finals. Zayas says having someone to spend time with after a long day of classes can be comforting, and “those interactions sustain you and make you feel a little bit better.”