The study found that dim illumination improves creative performance. Through a series of six experiments on German students, researchers found students performed better at creative tasks under dim lighting than they did under normal or bright light; they found no difference in performance between normal and bright light, however.
The researchers from the University of Stuttgart and Hohenheim said dim lighting ‘elicits a feeling of freedom, self-determination, and reduced inhibition,’ all of which encourage innovative thinking.
The main experiment carried out by Anna Steidle, University of Stuttgart, and Lioba Werth, University of Hohenheim, was on 114 German undergrads. The students were sat in groups of two or three in a small room set up like an office. The room was lit by a pendant fitting directly above the desk. Lux levels varied, with some groups receiving 150lx, 500lx (based on the recommended lighting level for an office), and 1,500lx. They were given 15 minutes to acclimate themselves then set to work on four ‘creative insight problems’.
Those in the dimly lit room solved significantly more problems correctly than those in the brightly lit room. They also felt freer and less inhibited than their intensely illuminated counterparts. However this doesn't mean people are extra creative with even less light.
Steidle told Lux Review: 'There is no direct linear relationship between dimming the light and creativity. Our findings suggest that dimming the lights improves the creativity as long as dimming creates a freeing, unconfined atmosphere. Dimming indirect lights doesn't have any effects on creativity as you can see in experiment five.'
Other experiments found merely priming the idea of darkness was enough to increase creativity. This was done by taking five minutes to describe an experience of being in the dark and recalling how it felt. One test involved drawing aliens. Researchers found the group who recalled sitting in a dark room drew better aliens than the group who didn’t.
The researchers note innovation consists of two distinct phases: generating ideas, and then analysing and implementing them. The latter requires analytical thinking, and in a final experiment, participants did better on that task when they were in a brightly lit room rather than a dimly lit one.
‘Creativity may begin in the dark,’ Steidle and Werth wrote, ‘but it shouldn’t end there.’
This research could be considered when lighting offices. Steidle said: 'People should be able to create lighting conditons that support the tasks they are completing by using a dimmer switch or different kinds of direct and indirect luminaires.'
The next step for the researchers is to learn more about the effects of lighting on social interaction.