YOUNG SCIENTIST PROJECT: Colored Lights as Visual Mood Vitamins, A Bit of DIY Psycho Maintenance?

The Swedes, I lived in Sweden for three years, have a bit of a cultural aversion towards colored lights–or they seemed to while I was there.  They prefer, aethetically speaking, white-light decorations at Christmas.

Interestingly, Swedes, like many in regions nearer the poles from a great deal of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).  Intense light therapy is employed to help many of the afflicted.  But I will explore here some neuroscience and some “neurospeculations” on what I find to be anecdotally true in my case: decorative white lights either do not help me during the dark days of winter, or they actually leave me a bit depressed. But festive, colorful light perk my mood up almost immediately.  Many operators of Mexican restaurants seen to agree with me for year-round effect!

This is particularly interesting because white light if a combination of the whole spectrum of frequencies of visible light.  So why does white light–for me at least–not more than cover a biological need, which we all have, for photonic stimulation and which, in the ideal, we can have supplied.

It reminds me of a joke base don partial subtraction that goes something like the following.  Yesterday I had corn & lima beans with dinner.  The day before yesterday I had corn and lima beans with dinner.  And the day before that I also had corn and lima beans with dinner.   I am so darn tired of corn and lima beans.  Tonight I am just going to have lima beans.

If my experience with the beneficial effects of colored lights holds at least for a significant subset of the population, it suggests the possibility of something very interesting at the neurophysiological level.  Maybe we will find that this has been worked out.  If not, maybe we can begin to formulate some interesting hypotheses.  and beyond that, perhaps we can imagine how we might test these hypotheses, or models.

For my young scientist friends, let’s have at it.  First of all, is the anecdote as described a common enough thing in order to be considered a meaningful neurobiological phenomenon worth investigating? Second, if this is a worthwhile topic of study (every scientist has to get really good at sorting what they are going to expend effort working on), one will want to study the literature, online first, then perhaps at a good science or medical library.  Third, begin looking at the physiology of the retina and the visual pathways in the brain.

Now there is some Saturday morning fun for you.

Schmitt’s Dictum No. Something or another: “Never be bored!”



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