Lighting Levels Affect Consumer Decision Making

bright light

A couple months back, Medical News Today published an article on the effect of room lighting on decision making. Invoking crime dramas in which suspects are interrogated under bright lights, the report suggests that people tend to feel emotions more intensely in brighter light. This finding is significant not just for retailers but for anyone who consciously uses light in their spaces for a desired effect.

Medical News Today’s story is based on research conducted by academics from the University of Toronto Scarborough and Northwestern University and published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. As you can guess, based on the journal that published the research, findings about how people act under different lighting conditions has important implications for how people act as CONSUMERS.

Here’s how the study went: A bunch of test subjects were asked to rate an eclectic mix of things, from the spiciness of chicken wings to the aggressiveness of a fictional character. Subjects were also asked to assess the flavor of two kinds of juice, the emotional tenor of certain words, and the attractiveness of a person. The scientists changed lighting levels as they observed their participants’ reactions to these stimuli. As the scientists suspected, lighting levels had an impact on how the participants felt about the things they were rating.

According to Medical News Today, previous studies have established that “people are more optimistic about the stock market, report higher well-being and are more helpful during sunny days, whereas being exposed to gloomy days for long periods of time can result in depressive feelings.”

But, then, the researchers ask, why do suicide rates peak during late spring and early summer months? This new study complicates the common belief that more light equals more happiness.

The researchers have concluded that brighter light levels do not necessarily make people happier. Instead, brighter light levels intensify both positive AND negative emotions. In the brighter room, during the experiment, participants felt more positive emotions in related to positive words and more negative emotions about negative words. They found people more attractive in the brighter room AND felt the fictional character to be more aggressive.

Basically, says one of the researchers, “Bright light intensifies the initial emotional reaction we have to different kinds of stimulus including products and people.” She says, “If you are selling emotional[ly] expressive products such as flowers or engagement rings, it would make sense to make the store as bright as possible.”

This study suggests that brighter light levels will increase whatever emotional reaction people have when they encounter things. The scientists think that this is because the human brain associates light with heat and is hardwired to react more intensely to things in the presence of heat. So, if you want to intensify the emotional reaction people have to what you’re displaying, simply make it brighter, this study might suggest.

Take from it what you will. I’m not suggesting that more light is always the best way to go, but this study should be taken into consideration during lighting design, especially for emotionally evocative retail products.

What kinds of products inspire emotional reactions from your customers or house guests? Have you thought about ways you can better illuminate these things? Leave a comment below!



Tom Sowders

After majoring in creative writing at NC State, I worked in the home remodeling industry. Then, I attended graduate school for a really long time and gained experience as a writer and writing instructor. I live in the Raleigh-Durham area with my wife and baby boy, and you can find me around the Triangle anywhere there's good music and/or NC-style BBQ.