Lighting Up Your World

Jasmine Chou (’23) details how lighting can impact our creativity. “I like working at night, staying up with my thoughts when everything is still. The lighting at school is brighter and I associate school as a place I have to go and get work done no matter what, so brighter lighting tends to bring up feelings of stress”

I recently came across a TikTok that showed a quote taken from an article in The Guardian written in 2009 by Jeanette Winterson titled Why I Adore the Night. This was the quote:

“I have noticed that when all the lights are on, people tend to talk about what they are doing – their outer lives. Sitting round in candlelight or firelight, people start to talk about how they are feeling – their inner lives. They speak subjectively, they argue less, there are longer pauses.

To sit alone without any electric light is curiously creative. I have my best ideas at dawn or at nightfall, but not if I switch on the lights – then I start thinking about projects, deadlines, demands, and the shadows and shapes of the house become objects, not suggestions, things that need to be done, not a background to thought.”

As Winterson states, candlelight gives a more intimate feeling, making people subconsciously open up about feelings. I think this also helps to explain our more negative moods in the winter, when the sun is not shining as much. In darker lighting, we tend to think more deeply, whether positive or negative. Seeing gray colors can put some people in darker moods. But, in sunlight, we tend to feel a bit happier and more optimistic as we associate the sun with joy. 

With these thoughts in mind, I decided to do a little more research on the correlations between lighting, mood, and creativity. An article written in 2020 by 3 students and their professor at the Jiao Tong University in Shanghai examined the effects of light illuminance and the correlated color temperature on mood and creativity. In the section 1.2 Studies on Light and Mood, an observational study from 1992 was cited which found that “dim warm light enhanced positive mood, while dim cool and bright warm light induced more negative effects.” This study was found to be consistent with the Kruithof curve, a model constructed by Dutch physicist Arie Andres Kruithof that describes the region of color temperatures and ranges of illuminance that can be combined to produce light that is viewed as most comfortable or “pleasing” to the eye. Several other studies were cited, but the conclusion was that in general, “lower illuminance and lower color temperature (warm color) are more likely to enhance positive mood.”

The next section discussed the relationship between mood and creativity. With these variables, there was a strong correlation. Studies showed that positive moods increased problem solving abilities and verbal creativity, however, when it came to creativity, positive moods led to poorer creative problem-solving performance. Negative moods, subsequently, induced higher creative problem-solving performance. It was found that the more intense and negative the emotions were, the more fluent in creativity the participants were. I think that these patterns are evident in our society. Having positive moods may increase motivation to perform tasks, so people will want to do well and have better attitudes about it, causing their problem solving skills to increase. With negative moods, we’ve seen and heard the most beautiful pieces of artwork or music made. Literature has taught us that the most important lessons are learned from the gravest mistakes and that having a happy life is boring; grief, trauma, drama, and pain are significant. The books that are known to be “the greatest pieces of literature” are often the most moving. 

Next came the comparison of light and creativity, however, this correlation was a bit more conflicting. A few studies from 2012 and 2014 found that daylight exposure to high CCT (correlated color temperature) was “confirmed to be advantageous for cognitive abilities and reduction of fatigue as well as sustained attention.” But, the opposite effects were observed in a study conducted in 2015. This study investigated the effect of color temperature on creativity and concentration. But this time, creativity was “better under lower CCT light than under higher CCT.” 

After reading the article, I started wondering about what types of lighting best suited my own moods and creativity levels. As a creative writer interested in psychology, the results of the study were fascinating to me. There must be a reason why “aesthetic bedrooms” that you find on Pinterest are associated with that “soft white glow” whereas corporate buildings are generally thought to have fluorescent, bright white lights. For me, the softer, dimmer lighting definitely makes a difference. I can’t tell if it increases my creativity, but I feel more at ease in that lighting. I like working at night, staying up with my thoughts when everything is still. The lighting at school is brighter and I associate school as a place I have to go and get work done no matter what, so brighter lighting tends to bring up feelings of stress.

Lighting designers are constantly thinking about these things. I wonder what the thought process is behind how these designers decide what type of lighting should be used in which facilities and why. Sometimes it depends on what brightness is needed, while other times require the psychology of mood and emotion to determine the type of lighting. Going about our daily lives, we don’t think twice about flipping on light switches when we enter a room. But even something as simple as lighting can make a great impact on the psychological processes of our minds.

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