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Emotions and Light


Explanations > Emotions > Emotions and Light

Description | Discussion | So what




Emotions are affected by light. Bright light intensifies emotions, making them 'hot', whether they are positive or negative. Low light does not remove emotion but it does keep it steady.

We also make more rational decisions in lower light and find it easier to agree with others in a negotiation.


Light is seldom pure white and varies with the illumination source. Even the sunlight changes across the day, with warmer tones around sunrise and sunset.

Colors also have different emotional and psychological meaning that often varies with culture.

Lighting towards the red end of the spectrum is often called 'warm' and is associated with emotionally positive feelings. 'Cool' lighting at the other end of the spectrum that is more blue is associated with reduced intensity of emotion.


The intensity of color also effects emotion, with more saturated hues having an amplifying effect on emotions, while more muted colors acting to damp emotion.

Black and white (monochrome) images can still evoke emotions, both through the subject matter and also by the range and use of contrast within the picture. Images that have low dynamic range, with more mid-tone shades have less of an impact.


Xu (2014) found that under bright lights, chicken wing sauce tasted spicier, a fictional character seemed more aroused and drinks tasted jucier than under low-light conditions. She suggests that this may be because we perceive light as connected with heat, and heat energy raises our emotional energy (perhaps because coolness has an evolutionary causal relationship with sleep and hibernation). This may also be why we feel good on sunny days and 'flat' on overcast days.

Emotion and reason are often mutually exclusive. When we get emotional, our brains suppress rational thought. Light that amplifies emotion may hence be a cause of unreasonable choices.

Red may be called 'warm' due to its links with blood and fire, while blue seems cool as it is associated with ice, water and open skies.

Lighting is one of the methods used in theatrical and movie productions to create mood. Warmer shades are typical in restaurants where subdued lighting is used to reduce activation and relax customers.

While lighting illuminates some things, it also causes shadows, which may seem dark and brooding, where perhaps danger lies. Shadows can also give a two-dimensional picture more depth, especially when the light is to the side, hence making it more realistic and hence more emotionally impactful.

One way of adjusting photographs on a computer is through HSL, or Hue, Saturation and Luminance (brightness). This gives users the ability to adjust the emotion within the picture through these three key dimensions.

So what?

Design lighting, taking into account cultural effects. This can create subtle effects that change how people think, feel and decide.

To add power to promotional displays, light them brightly. Light shows dirt, so ensure the displays are clean.

When you need to think and decide, go somewhere out of the bright lights. If you cannot get away, close your eyes and turn your head away from light sources, whether these are ceiling lights, side lights or windows.

To calm somebody who is distressed, take them into a dimly lit room. There you can talk calmly with them.

If you have a shop selling emotional products such as clothes, jewels or flowers, then use brighter lighting, especially on the product displays and where customers will try them out and decide to buy. Even when selling online, you can use plenty of white to brighten the screen.

When negotiating, use lighting to raise or calm the emotional temperature, depending on whether you are using emotional or rational methods.

See also

Hot and Cold Emotions, Amplification principle, The Meaning of Colors


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