We already know that lighting has a substantial effect on our moods, making us feel less energetic on dull, cloudy mornings than on bright, sunny days. But what if I told you that lighting also has an effect on our cognitive abilities, such as learning and productivity?
In a 2010 case study on students in a German primary school, the Philips lighting company put this question to the test with their SchoolVision dynamic lighting system. This system allowed teachers to vary the brightness or color mood of their classrooms according to the time of day or activity, the goal being to see if changing the lighting in certain situations would result in different classroom behaviors. Below is what they found.
There were four main light settings, Normal, Energy, Focus, and Calm, all of which were expertly engineered to encourage either a stimulating or relaxing environment.
- Normal had a standard intensity level and color tone, creating an ideal setting for regular classroom activity.
- Energy had a higher intensity level and a very cool color tone, helping invigorate students when they needed to be more active such as in the mornings or after lunch.
- Focus had the highest intensity light and a moderately cool color tone, aiding concentration during challenging tasks such as quizzes or tests.
- Calm had a standard intensity light level and a warm color tone, bringing a relaxing ambiance to individual work or quiet time.
Using the recommended settings over the course of one year, teachers saw a 35 percent improvement in reading speed with almost 45 percent less errors than the control group. Hyperactivity was also reduced by up to 76 percent under the Calm setting, a figure that the control group did not come even close to. These numbers definitely seem to support the conclusion that lighting produces psychological effects that impact our attention span, concentration, and behavior. Moreover, they also correlate with other studies that prove that the same is true not only for children in a classroom setting, but also for adults in the workplace. For instance, in the late 1980s, the lighting system in the U.S. post office in Reno, Nevada was renovated to swap its harsh, artificial light for softer, more natural light. The upgrade not only resulted in $50,000 in energy savings, but productivity increases (such as much faster mail sorters and lower error rates for machine operators) that were projected to boost company revenues by up to $500,000 per year.
Unfortunately, the effect of light on behavior is less easily measured or studied than energy savings, so findings like these are rarely considered when a school or business is implementing a new lighting system. Although interchanging warm and cool color tones and varying light intensities throughout the day like with the SchoolVision system would probably be ideal, even a simple swap from dim, harsh lighting to softer, more natural lighting in the workplace can clearly make a big difference in enhancing job performance.
Could your workplace benefit from dynamic or natural light? Does lighting affect you differently at certain places or times of day? Tell us in the comments below, or drop us a line on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, or Google Plus!