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How light affects our performance

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Last summer I looked at some German research that was exploring the role lighting played in our creativity at work.  The study asked participants to solve various creative problems, whilst varying the degree of light available in the rooms within which they worked.

The results were fascinating.  Not only did those working in dim conditions show better creative performance, but those who were primed merely to think about the gloom did as well.

A similar outcome has emerged from another study published recently in Canada.  It was exploring the role lighting played on our emotions, revealing that our feelings are more intense when exposed to bright lights.

“Other evidence shows that on sunny days people are more optimistic about the stock market, report higher wellbeing, and are more helpful while extended exposure to dark, gloomy days can result in seasonal affective disorder,” says Alison Jing Xu, assistant professor of management at the University of Toronto Scarborough.

“Contrary to these results, we found that on sunny days depression-prone people actually become more depressed,” she says, pointing to peaks in suicide rates during late spring and summer when sunshine is abundant.

The researchers believe that the results are due to our perception of bright light as being related to heat, with this perception then triggering our intense emotions.

“Bright light intensifies the initial emotional reaction we have to different kinds of stimulus including products and people,” Xu says.

So how does this affect us at work?  Well, the researchers suggest that most of our workplaces have bright lights, therefore most of our decisions at work are done under the kind of conditions that can make our emotions quite extreme.  They suggest that this is far from the optimum environment for making rational decisions.  Therefore, dimming the lights in the workplace might not just make us more creative, but also more rational.

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