A study by two researchers at the University of Stuttgard in Germany has found that people think more creatively in dimly lit environments.
“Darkness increases freedom from constraints, which in turn promotes creativity,” wrote Anna Steidle and Lioba Werth, in a report published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology. A dimly lit environment “elicits a feeling of freedom, self-determination, and reduced inhibition,” they explained. All these factors contribute positively to innovative thinking.
The researchers performed several experiments to reach this conclusion, but the most significant involved 114 undergraduate students seated in small groups in a room designed to feel akin to an office.
The room was illuminated by a fixture hanging from the ceiling over a desk. Different groups received different levels of lighting, with some receiving only dim lighting while others received very bright light.
The groups were assigned four creative insight problems typically used in creativity research. Steidle and Werth found that the groups who received dim lighting solved more problems correctly that those in the brightly lit room. The participants working in the dimly lit room also described themselves as feeling freer and less inhibited than those in the brightly lit room.
While the results are interesting, this doesn’t mean you should go out and buy the dimmest bulbs you can find for your office (assuming you want your employees to be creative).
The researchers noted that innovation consists of two phases. First comes idea generation which is followed up by analyzing and implementation of the ideas. The second phase involves analytical thinking. In one experiment, participants receiving bright light outperformed their dimly lit counterparts.
“Creativity may begin in the dark, but it shouldn’t end there,” Steidle and Werth quipped.