Red: The Best Colour for Office Lighting?

It may to pay to be attentive to the kind of office lighting you have installed, research suggests.

Offices bathed in red may improve the happiness and, in turn, productivity of night shift workers.  The kind of light you are exposed to can have a lasting effect on your mood, according to the study published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Dr Tracy Bedrosian, a scientist behind the study, described a subset of neurons in the retina that are highly sensitive to blue wavelengths of light, but less so to red. These neurons are responsible for sending messages to the brain with regards to the time of day. With this as a starting block, the team began to experiment with different wavelengths of light, in order to discover how the collective mood of a group of hamsters was effected.

Then how, pray tell, does one measure the mood of a hamster?

Scientists gave the rodent test group a choice between tap water and sugar water, with sugar water being a hamsters beverage of choice. However, after weeks of exposure to blue and white light, the hamsters lost interest – perhaps even pleasure – in the sugar water. This phenomenon, often observed in patients with severe depression, is known as anhedonia – loss of pleasure in that which was previously pleasurable.

So if the presence of a certain type of light can be so detrimental to the mental well-being of hamsters, what sort of effect would long-term exposure have to us humans? Science is yet to ascertain, but Dr Bedrosian suggested a change in lighting for night shift workers may be beneficial to mood and productivity.

“Using red light in certain circumstances might actually be beneficial. One example that comes to mind is nurses that have to go into their patients’ rooms late at night, and typically turn on all the lights which is disruptive to them and their patients. Using red lights in cases like this may make sense,” said Dr. Tracy Bedrosian on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Breakfast show.

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