The Bejeezus Out of Me

Startling behavioral science.

The Incandescent Effect

Light enflames emotions—all of ‘em

author's drawing

Forget the "wisdom" about turning the lights down low to set a romantic mood. A new study by faculty at the schools of management of University of Toronto and Northwestern University suggests that turning the lights up—way up— is what's called for.

In this April's Journal of Consumer Psychology, Alison Xing Ju and Aparna A. Labroo report on data collected in studies they conducted with hundreds of male and female university students. Consistently across experiments, intensity in light corresponded to intensity in feelings—and not just romantic ones. 

Bright light increased perceptions of warmth, made spicy chili taste yummier, polarized judgment, made people rate human models as "hotter" (more aggressive and sexy), intensified feelings, and increased consumption of delicious drinks.

According to Ju and Labroo, the romantic takeaway from their work is that if you want a resounding "Yes!" to your proposal of marriage, or if you want your cooled-down spouse to heat back up, you might consider bringing your beloved outside at high noon on a sunny day. Conversations that need to be calmly handled—about separation or divorce, for example—are the ones that might best happen by candlelight.

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Alison Xing Ju and Aparna A. Labroo, Incandescent Affect: Turning On The Hot Emotional System With Bright Light Incandescent Affect: Turning On The Hot Emotional System With Bright Light ☆Journal of Consumer Psychology.

By day Rebecca Coffey is a science journalist, contributing to Scientific American,Discover, and Vermont Public Radio. She also presents a weekly radio spot, Family Friendly Science, on the nationally syndicated  show, Daybreak USA. By night she is a novelist and humorist. Hysterical: Anna Freud's Story is due out in May 2014 from She Writes Press. Nietzsche's Angel Food Cake: And Other "Recipes" for the Intellectually Famished was published in October 2013 by Beck & Branch.

Rebecca Coffey is a science journalist and broadcast commentator with Vermont Public Radio. 

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