Whether you are feeling really good or really bad, emotions are felt more intensely when the ambient lighting is brighter, according to recent research (Xu et al., 2013).
Since many decisions are made under strong lighting conditions, turning down the lights may help you make less emotional decisions.
The study, published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, also has implications for those experiencing depression, as Alison Jing Xu, the study’s lead author explained:
“…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.
Contrary to these results, we found that on sunny days depression-prone people actually become more depressed.”
Perhaps the effect of bright light on the emotions could help explain the higher rates of suicide in the late spring and summer months.
Across six experiments the researchers gave participants various tests in both brightly and dimly lit rooms.
They found that:
- Bright lights increase our perception of heat: people feel warmer when they are in a brighter area.
- People order spicier food when the lights are brighter: we want to be thrilled in the light.
- Aggressive people are judged to be even more aggressive when the judges are sitting under bright lights.
- People find others more attractive when in bright rooms.
- People react more strongly to both positive and negative words under bright lights.
What these experiments are telling us, the authors explain, is:
“Bright light usually correlates with heat, and heat is linked to emotional intensity.
This psychological experience of heat turns on the hot emotional system, intensifying a person’s emotional reactions to any stimulus.
Thus, in bright light, good feels better and bad feels worse.” (Xu et al., 2013).
So, to turn down your emotions, try turning down the lights.
And to turn them up, flick the switch on!
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Image credit: Eole Wind