Hit the Dimmer Switch for a Creative Boost

Research shows a dimmer room can enhance feelings of security, thus freeing your mind up to wander.

A recent study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology finds dark rooms may improve creativity.

When someone enters a room, she gets a visual cue as to how to behave and appear. In turn, she must decide whether to behave as if she's in an open and welcoming environment -- or a confining one.

According to the study, dark rooms promote a more "global" perspective, which in turn can enhance creativity.

That's not surprising since previous research has shown soft light is often relaxing (think coffee shops) and makes people feel safe. Such environments can also make them more apt to take risks -- from writing harsh reviews online to hugging a stranger -- because they don't feel they are being watched or under pressure to act a certain way.

Two researchers based in Germany, Anna Steidle and Lioba Werth, used six experiments to observe different aspects of creativity. The first three studies primed participants by having them describe a dark or bright environment or do a word search where the words were related to one of two illuminations. From there, creativity was measured by an imagination task, an alternative-use game, or a speed-accuracy test.

Priming dark conditions induces a risky, more explorative behavior, leading to creativity, Steidle concluded. But to generalize it, she and her partner had to use actual lighting variations.

In the fourth study, subjects were placed in one of three types of rooms: dim, bright, or a control room, where the light was at the level recommended level for offices. Participants sat in the room for fifteen minutes before beginning a creative logic task, which was then followed by a self-evaluation of how comfortable they had felt.

Turns out the dimmer rooms promoted more insight problem-solving, as well as higher levels of comfort among the participants.

There was one caveat: The researchers noted dim light didn't promote creativity if the participants felt inhibited. And dimmer light might hinder analytical, logical tasks.

If you want to design a creative workspace, consider hitting the dimmer switch and adding plants and windows. Also, don't forget to check in with your staff to make sure they feel comfortable.

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