Working in an office with a lot of natural light doesn’t just make you more productive on the job and help you sleep better at night; it may also be vital to your intelligence. This is according to a new study from Michigan State University which found that spending too much time in dim areas such as poorly lit offices could actually change the structure of rats’ brains. This in turn impacts on the way they remember information and learn new things.

For the purposes of the study the team of MSU neuroscientists analysed the brains of Nile grass rats, which are comparable to humans in that they are awake during the day and asleep at night and thereby should exhibit a similar reaction to changes in light levels.

The study found that after continued exposure to dim light over a period of four weeks, the rats lost 30% of their hippocampi, responsible for learning and memory. It was also found to negatively impact upon their performance in spatial tasks.

Furthermore, rats that were given ample access to bright light improved on their performance of the same spatial task. Reassuringly when rats that had been exposed to dim light were given doses of bright light for a month, they fully recovered the mental capacity that had been lost.

Dim light is defined in the context of the study as ‘an average grey Midwestern winters’ day or normal indoor lighting’.

As for the mechanisms at work here, the researchers discovered that when continually exposed to dim light over a significant duration, the peptide in the brain that maintains the connections between neurons in the hippocampus becomes fewer in number. Antonio Nunez, a psychology professor and co-investigator on the study, explained in a recent statement, “Since there are fewer connections being made, this results in diminished learning and memory performance that is dependent upon the hippocampus. In other words, dim lights are producing dimwits.”

While the research was carried out on rats, it nonetheless suggests that the design of the spaces we inhabit has a direct impact on the way that we think. As such, ensuring the ample provision of bright, preferably natural, light within an office environment has moved beyond a welcome perk to become an outright necessity.

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor as he continues to expand his horizons.
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