Human brains crave natural lighting
In spaces where people want to be productive, daylighting is the gold standard. Here are some of the ways daylight makes us come alive. In many ways, light is conducive to helping humans thrive and it raises their quality of life.
- In the workplace, daylight leads to higher job satisfaction, better sleep quality, and higher productivity.
- In hospitals, patients exposed to more daylight need fewer pain medications and recover more quickly from surgery.
- In schools, daylight exposure makes students more alert and increases their ability to concentrate and learn. They also get higher test scores.
- In retail, daylight exposure makes shoppers stay longer and purchase more. They’re also more willing to pay a higher price for the same product.
It's not always possible to access natural lighting. But designing the right lighting system can recreate the same effects.
Lighting colors our emotions and perceptions
A study published in 2014 in the Journal of Consumer Psychology shows how bright lighting quietly shapes how we respond to our world. Test subjects were placed in one of two rooms, one with bright ambient lighting, the other lit only with the soft glow of computer screens. Some interesting differences emerged between the two groups of test subjects. Here’s how the brightly lit group compared to the dim lighting group.
- A fictional character’s actions were rated as more aggressive
- A woman was rated as more attractive
- Buffalo wing sauces were rated as spicier
- Their responses to positive words and negative words were stronger
- Even the room temperature was perceived as warmer
Other studies show how lighting affects the appetite. When we dim the lights for a fine dining ambiance, we eat more slowly and savor the flavors. But we’re more likely to eat more and choose unhealthy foods. Under brighter lights, people eat more quickly but they’re also more likely to select healthier foods.
When lights can make us stressed
In a workplace environment, harsh lighting interferes with vision and causes discomfort, annoyance, irritability, and distraction. In less expensive fluorescent lighting systems, the low-frequency modulation causes eyestrain and visual fatigue. Switching to high-frequency ballasts can reduce brain stress and improve productivity.(Source: Research cited in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health, “Effects of lighting quality on working efficiency of workers" Katabora and Yan, 2019)
Lights can keep us up past bedtime
Exposure to short wavelength, high-energy blue light from our personal devices can make us feel more alert and be more productive by day. But nighttime exposure from scrolling and watching videos can interfere with melatonin production and delay the onset of sleep. In other words, it can trick the mind into thinking it’s daytime, and send signals to stay awake.
Being in control over lighting improves psychological health
When people can adjust the lighting to their specific preferences, it makes them feel in control of their environment. Studies show that having this freedom and flexibility in the workplace has many benefits: it increases work satisfaction, motivation, and vigilance, and it raises visual comfort. These feelings can translate to the home environment.
How researchers evaluate the effects of lighting
Albert Mehrabian and James Russell have argued that the emotional response to the environment can be reduced to three elements: pleasure, arousal, and domination. This is also known as the PAD theory: