images of one woman, head and shoulders, three times: left in amber light, middle in blue, right in red
The Color Lab at the California Lighting Technology Center will test color spectra on stress levels. The lab is a joint project between the CLTC and the Center for Mind and Brain at UC Davis. (Jerry Tsai/UC Davis)

Color on the Mind

New Lab Examines Physiological Effect of Discrete Color Spectra

Would you feel less nervous being rolled into an MRI surrounded by an amber glow? Get more out of your meditation sessions bathed in blue light?

Researchers at the California Lighting Technology Center and the Center for Mind and Brain, both in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science, are looking into that. The CLTC recently opened its Color Lab in which test subjects are given tasks to perform under different colored lighting conditions. Subjects’ responses are measured using electroencephalography, or EEG, to reveal brain activity and by testing cortisol levels in saliva that reveal stress levels.

“This kind of study collecting physiological data under discrete color spectra hasn’t been done here before,” said Jae Yong Suk, associate director of the CLTC and associate professor in the Department of Design. “We’ll take samples under different lighting conditions and then compare them with white lighting as a control group.”

It’s already known that lighting can affect mood, but testing in the new lab will give a more precise and quantitative reading of the impact of specific light colors." — Jae Yong Suk

“We consider applying the research findings to spaces associated with high-stress factors — hospital environments such as MRI and other exam rooms,” Suk said. “In an office environment, we don’t normally use a discrete color of light for ambient lighting, but some office buildings have health clinics and meditation rooms for their employee's well-being. This research will inform lighting conditions for various indoor spaces such as buildings, cars, airplanes and trains.”  

This is the first significant collaboration between the CLTC and the Center for Mind and Brain and involves researchers from both, according to Michael Siminovitch, director of the CLTC, and Ron Mangun, director of the CMB.

“We are especially interested in the neural mechanisms and the specific networks and circuits that enable selective attention — attending one thing while ignoring another,” Mangun said.

The study is funded by Toyota Boshoku, a company that is interested in research applicable to vehicle interiors.

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