A nationwide time-series analysis for short-term effects of ambient temperature on violent crime in South Korea


Psychological theories on heat-aggression relationship have existed for decades and recent models suggest climate change will increase violence through varying pathways. Although observational studies have examined the impact of temperature on violent crime, the evidence for associations is primarily limited to coarse temporal resolution of weather and crime (e.g., yearly/monthly) and results from a few Western communities, warranting studies based on higher temporal resolution data of modern systemic crime statistics for various regions. This observational study examined short-term temperature impacts on violent crime using national crime data for the warm months (Jun.–Sep.) across South Korea (2016–2020). Distributed lag non-linear models assessed relative risks (RRs) of daily violent crime counts at the 70th, 90th, and 99th summer temperature percentiles compared to the reference temperature (10th percentile), with adjustments for long-term trends, seasonality, weather, and air pollution. Results indicate potentially non-linear relationships between daily summer temperature (lag0–lag10) and violent crime counts. Violent crimes consistently increased from the lowest temperature and showed the highest risk at the 70th temperature (~ 28.0 °C). The RR at the 70th and 90th percentiles of daily mean temperature (lag0–lag10), compared to the reference, was 1.11 (95% CI 1.09, 1.15) and 1.04 (95% CI 1.01, 1.07), indicating significant associations. Stratified analysis showed significant increases in assault and domestic violence for increases in temperature. The lagged effects, the influences of heat on subsequent crime incidence, did not persist 21 days after the exposure, possibly due to the displacement phenomenon. We found curvilinear exposure–response relationships, which provide empirical evidence to support the psychological theories for heat and violence. Lower public safety through increased violent crime may be an additional public health harm of climate change.

Publication Date: 
S Heo, HM Choi, J-T Lee, ML Bell
Scientific Reports 2024:14; 3210

Last Updated: Aug 22, 2022