It’s widely known that lighting can affect one’s mood — hence the term mood lighting. But the degree at which your mood is affected by lighting might surprise you.
In 2014, the Journal of Consumer Psychology published a study that found the more intense the lighting, the more affected and the more intense the participants’ emotions were — both positive and negative.
The study included six experiments that looked at the link between emotion and ambient brightness. Researchers found feelings of warmth increased when participants were exposed to bright light with hints of reddish hues, and the brighter the light, the more intense their emotions. Associating this orange-ish light to feelings of warmth and relaxation probably originates from our earliest ancestors, who both for warmth and safety from predators, made sure to light a fire at night. For a more in-depth look into color temperatures and their effects on our biology, check out: The Effects of Light Color and Intensity on Your Mind and Body.
So how does this relate to your next remodel?
When designing a space, the initial goal is to define the space and its primary use.
For example, “In an office setting, lighting should encourage alertness and productivity,” said Rebecca Hadley, manager of Eaton’s SOURCE lighting education center. “It’s also beneficial to incorporate controls that allow for changes throughout the day. Ideally, you’d have the ability to adjust the intensity of your lighting with a dimmer switch.”
When lighting for a home, homeowners should consider the purpose each room will serve. The kitchen, a work space, demands brighter light. The living room, more mellow, warmer lighting.
When entertaining friends or throwing a party, brighter light sets a positive, upbeat mood and encourages socializing and alertness. Similarly, the entrance of your home should welcome guests, creating a smooth transition from the bright daylight to your home’s interior lighting. At night, the lighting should ease the visitor from the dark outdoors into a warm interior light that will not overload their senses. During pre-bedtime activities, lighting should be lowered to promote “winding down” but bright enough so that you can navigate your home safely.
Mimicking Outdoor Lighting
Vast research has been completed on the benefits of incorporating natural light into a space. According to Architectural Lighting Magazine, natural light — or daylighting — provides the stimulation needed to regulate human circadian rhythms, or the internal body clock. For more on the health benefits of natural light, check out our article here.
In addition to circadian rhythms, natural light also affects our moods and can increase productivity and comfort in a workplace setting. A study by HMG titled “Daylighting Impacts on Retail Sales Performance,” found that the presence of skylights was the third-most important criteria of statistically significant factors in increasing sales volume. HMG also studied daylighting in schools and found a strong connection between schools that reported improvements in test scores — more than 10 percent — and those that reported increased natural lighting in the classroom.
Natural lighting can have a similar effect when incorporated in a home’s lighting plan. Beyond energy savings, exposure to natural light improves mood and can help make falling asleep easier. Spending your day in areas that are enhanced by natural light can help improve the function of your circadian rhythm, which can increase your happiness and energy levels. Exposing yourself to too much blue light from electronics in the evening is directly associated with the opposite effect, which you can read more about here.
Hadley said industry research suggests indoor light (during the day) should mimic the color of light we experience outside.
“…cool light in the morning, to white light at midday, to warm light in the evening,” Hadley explained.
As mentioned before, while lighting in the home is mainly tied to user preference, research shows there are a few steps everyone can take to create a calm, pleasing environment that mimics outdoor lighting.
“At night, lower light levels and warmer color temperatures – those that fall in the 2,700 to 3,000 Kelvin range – emulate the outside environment’s evening light and help us get ready for sleep by reducing our blood pressure and creating a restful feel,” Hadley said. “If you’re cooking or entertaining guests in the evening, you may find that higher light levels and color temperatures are beneficial. However, people generally tend to prefer warmer light at home.”
Flexibility is Key
Flexibility is one natural benefit of smart lighting design. New advancements in lighting controls have made lighting for mood easier than ever.
“Studies show that wall color can affect heart rate and irritability levels, but you can adjust your light more readily than the paint on your walls,” Hadley said. “For example, you can use high-intensity light to complete a craft activity at the kitchen table. An hour later, you can serve dinner to your family at that same table beneath a warmer, lower-intensity light.”
Newer LEDs with integrated controls and the ability to dim to warmer color temperatures are becoming popular in the hospitality industry because of their ability to affect the customer experience. “Warmer light and lower light levels have been shown to slow heart rate and create a relaxing state,” Hadley explained. “As a result, customers might be inspired to enjoy appetizers and cocktails rather than rushing through to the main course.”
Conversely, some restaurants might put brighter light in an area where they want to turn tables quickly.
Mood & Color
Color is the most important aspect in lighting and mood. In a 2015 study, Ohio State University found that blue light at night can lower people’s moods and encourage depressive feelings, while white light had a less depressive affect than blue light on mood and performance. Red light faired the best with researchers suggesting this type of lighting for hospitals, hotels and workplaces that operate 24 hours.
The Most Important Design Element
With the ability to largely affect the mood of a room, lighting is the most important element to consider when designing a space.
In addition to altering the mood of the occupants in a room, lighting has the ability to help your room transform in shape and size. If you have a den that is particularly small, painting the walls a light color and having extra lighting reflecting off the walls will help the room to appear larger. Recessed lighting can add a soft glow to a room without protruding into the space, which can also help the room appear larger.
With its versatility in brightness levels and light colors, designers continue to turn to LED lighting. Advances in LED technology has led to several new fixtures, including LED skylights that imitate the look of a window and the sky. These “skylights” shed light that is the same temperature as natural light — offering an open, airy feeling and helping the room’s occupants to feel a more positive vibe.
With continued research and innovation in lighting, homeowners and designers have many options when it comes to selecting the right lighting to set the right mood for their space.
Katie is an LA-based writer who's covered everything from fashion startups to jazz legends, philanthropic NHL players and now design and architectural LED lighting. She is the former editor of a music trade magazine, enjoys writing about indie businesses and strongly believes that Edison bulbs complete all design projects. Katie can be reached at [email protected]
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