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Could Access to More Daylight Make Us More Intelligent?

Posted on March 5, 2018 by Mark Silverberg and Helen Sanders on

Could Access to More Daylight Make Us More Intelligent?

The evidence continues to grow that daylight in our buildings matters a great deal for human health as well as productivity. Just last week a new study from Michigan State University (MSU) provides new data that access to high-levels of light (such that is provided on a sunny day) also improves mental acuity and memory. Conversely, low light levels, simulating those experienced by occupants in buildings and during Midwest winters, were shown to inhibit learning and cause a change in the brain’s structure. According to Joel Soler, one of the researchers from MSU who carried out this study “Dim light is producing dimwits!”

Although this research was done on Nile grass rats, these animals are like humans in that they have the same sleep-wake cycle and the results are being extrapolated to human brains. After four weeks of exposure to dim light, the rats lost 30 percent of the capacity in the region of the brain needed for learning and memory. Interestingly, after further exposure to brighter light for four weeks, this capacity and spatial memory performance was regained. The research group at MSU identified a specific peptide that influences brain function, the production of which is determined by the amount of light exposure. Apparently, low levels of this peptide can reduce neuron connections in the brain and can explain the loss of memory and reduced learning phenomenon found in this study.

The implications of this study are huge – for students trying to learn in dark classrooms, for knowledge workers managing complex tasks in dark offices and for the elderly where maintaining cognitive function is a priority. We can see why moving south for the winter to sunnier climes can be a healthy choice, no matter how old you are!