Study: Your office’s dim lighting could be making you a dimwit

If you are having trouble remembering what you did today at work, your office light may be the culprit. A new study published in Hippocampus found that low lighting makes it harder to learn and remember tasks.

Dim bulbs create dimbulbs

When Michigan State University researchers exposed Nile grass rats to dim lights for four weeks, the rats’ brain capacity decreased by an average of 30%.  The researchers found that the rats’ hippocampus — the brain region that is critical for learning and memory — was significantly impaired by the lack of bright lighting.

“When we exposed the rats to dim light, mimicking the cloudy days of Midwestern winters or typical indoor lighting, the animals showed impairments in spatial learning,” Antonio Nunez, the study’s co-author said. “This is similar to when people can’t find their way back to their cars in a busy parking lot after spending a few hours in a shopping mall or movie theater.”

Dim lighting is a problem that affects many of us. We may live in grayer climates where low lighting is out of our control. Or, we could work after dark where our only lighting is the blue screens coming from our computer monitor. The Environmental Protection Agency calculates that people spend 90% of their time indoors.

But if you find your memory lapsing, there’s a simple cure — more light. Take the rats in the study as an example. When the forgetful and learning-impaired rats under the influence of dim lighting got exposed to bright lights for four weeks (after a monthlong break), their memories and performance skills improved and returned back to normal.

Many of us may not be thinking that our mood lighting is putting us at a disadvantage. Unlike other workplace environmental factors, your office’s overhead lighting is not an obvious connection to your job performance. But this study is a reminder that the amount of lighting can make just as much a difference in our output as rude coworkers or hectic deadlines can. Mood lighting may help you relax, but if you want to get work properly done, turn on another light.