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Room lighting affects mood and decision-making

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Study finds bright light intensifies emotions.

A new study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology reports that different lighting conditions can have a major impact on your mood.

Researchers from the University of Toronto Scarborough in Canada and Northwestern University in Illinois conducted six studies, using different lighting conditions for each. They then asked study participants to rate various items, such as how attractive they thought someone was, how spicy a chicken wing sauce was and how they felt about certain words.

Prior research has found that people report being happier and more helpful on sunny days, but when they experience more gloomy days for an extended period of time, they are more depressed.

In this study, however, the researchers discovered something different.

According to lead researcher Alison Jing Xu, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto, she and her team found that even on sunny days, people prone to depression actually become more depressed – pointing out that suicide rates peak during sunny days in late spring and summer.

This study also showed that people experience more intense emotions under bright lighting conditions, which may explain why crime television shows always depict detectives interrogating suspects under bright light to get the truth out of them.

When lighting conditions for the study were bright, for example, participants rated chicken wing sauce as spicier. They also rated women higher on the attractiveness scale and rated certain words as making them feel either more positive or more negative, depending on the word’s impact on their emotions.

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The point is that whatever emotions they felt, they felt them more intensely under bright lighting conditions.

Another finding was that the perception of heat could affect the participants’ emotions. The research team said that this is because emotions are more intense under bright light; thus, leading to the perception that light is heat, which can trigger more intense emotions.

The team also found that bright light affects the kinds of decisions people make. Since the majority of people work during the day under bright lighting conditions, the researchers noted that most daily decisions are made under bright light, which intensifies emotions.

Accordingly, they suggest that turning the light lower may help people make more rational decisions, not to mention negotiate better settlements in a calmer manner.

Xu explained that bright lighting conditions intensify our initial emotional reaction to different types of stimulus, including products and people, which she said is even more intense on bright, sunny days around Noon when the sun’s rays are strongest.

In this regard, she said that marketers could use the findings of the study to help them sell products. For example, retail stores could adjust the lighting in different departments, depending on the products they want to sell in that particular department.

1. University of Toronto, Media Release: New research shows the way a room is lit can affect the way you make decisions, published February 19, 2014.
2. Journal of Consumer Psychology, Incandescent affect: Turning on the hot emotional system with bright light, Alison Jing Xua, Aparna A. Labroob, published online December 31, 2013.

University of Toronto news release, accessed 21 February 2014.