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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 09-Oct-09


Friday 09-October-09

Lighting performance

How significant is your lighting at work with regard to how effective you are? What if you turned down the lights a bit to save cost and energy? What about the effects of different type of lighting, placement, etc?

The human mind is programmed by evolution to respond to light in different ways. Low light means dusk and time for bed, and can make us sleepy. Sunlight is good for us, stimulating the skin in vitamin production and literally energising us. And yet we work in dingy offices with highly variable lighting. Fluorescent lighting in particular, whilst cheap can be harmful, particularly when the 100Hz flicker interferes with cognitive processes.

Researchers Mark Winterbottom and Arnold Wilkins investigated the effect in UK schools and found a number of issues. Many fluorescents were of the 100Hz flickering kind and were found in 90% of classrooms. Ambient light was not even and 88% had areas of the room which were too bright. Other problems included fixed-angle computer screens that caused uncomfortable reflective glare.

It is a false economy to base workplace design on cost or convenience. There are many things beyond lighting that, if not considered and designed into the workplace, will negatively impact performance and can lead to long-term harm of the people who work there.

Winterbottom, M., & Wilkins, A. (2009). Lighting and discomfort in the classroom. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 29 (1), 63-75

Your comments

The history of technology is fascinating.

Many people expect Air Conditioning is installed for their comfort in warm climates. True, but actual criteria may show that it is justified by improved productivity, efficiency or performance even in temperate climates. In fact, early AC projects were intended to improve material and process properties first, the benefit to the staff was a by product.

When new AC equipment is being installed the staff might quip to the technicians - "'s about time we had this, now we can relax and cool off...", the technician would quip back, "...true, but be careful, you're gonna have to work harder now, at least before you had an excuse on a hot day....".

Lighting is probably not much different. In the least bright lights look industrious. In the days before energy conservation brightly lit office towers were beacons that the economy was productive.

In a sort of irony I once had a group of electronic technicians zealously object to an energy retrofit which reduced window size in their workshop. They had no intention of surrendering their "natural light" source.

I suppose the occupant is as important as the occupation?

-- Peter



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