Media Releases

New research shows the way a room is lit can affect the way you make decisions

February 19, 2014

TORONTO, ON — The next time you want to turn down the emo­tion­al inten­si­ty before mak­ing an impor­tant deci­sion, you may want to dim the lights first.

A new study from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Scar­bor­ough shows that human emo­tion, whether pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive, is felt more intense­ly under bright light. Ali­son Jing Xu, assis­tant pro­fes­sor of man­age­ment at UTSC and the Rot­man School of Man­age­ment, along with Aparna Labroo of North­west­ern Uni­ver­si­ty, con­duct­ed a series of stud­ies to exam­ine the unusu­al para­dox of light­ing and human emo­tion.

“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 Xu. “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.

Xu and Labroo asked par­tic­i­pants to rate a wide range of things—the spici­ness of chick­en-wing sauce, the aggres­sive­ness of a fic­tion­al char­ac­ter, how attrac­tive some­one was, their feel­ings about spe­cif­ic words, and the taste of two juices—under dif­fer­ent light­ing con­di­tions.

The results: under bright lights emo­tions are felt more intense­ly. In the brighter room par­tic­i­pants want­ed spici­er chick­en wing sauce, thought the fic­tion­al char­ac­ter was more aggres­sive, found the women more attrac­tive, felt bet­ter about pos­i­tive words and worse about neg­a­tive words, and drank more of the “favourable” juice and less of the “unfavourable” juice.

Xu says the effect bright light has on our emo­tion­al sys­tem may be the result of it being per­ceived as heat, and the per­cep­tion of heat can trig­ger our emo­tions. “Bright light inten­si­fies the ini­tial emo­tion­al reac­tion we have to dif­fer­ent kinds of stim­u­lus includ­ing prod­ucts and peo­ple,” she says.

The major­i­ty of every­day deci­sions are also made under bright light. So turn­ing down the light may help you make more ratio­nal deci­sions or even set­tle nego­ti­a­tions more eas­i­ly.

“Mar­keters may also adjust the light­en­ing lev­els in the retail envi­ron­ment, accord­ing to the nature of the prod­ucts on sale,” says Xu. “If you are sell­ing emo­tion­al expres­sive prod­ucts such as flow­ers or engage­ment rings it would make sense to make the store as bright as pos­si­ble.”

Xu notes the effect is like­ly to be stronger on brighter days around noon when sun­light is the most abun­dant and in geo­graph­ic regions that expe­ri­ence sun­nier rather than cloudi­er days.

The research is pub­lished in the cur­rent edi­tion of the Jour­nal of Con­sumer Psy­chol­o­gy.

For more infor­ma­tion, con­tact:

Don Camp­bell
Media Rela­tions Offi­cer
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Scar­bor­ough
Tel: 416–208-2938
Cel: 905–424-8894