How light affects the brain

A recent (2010) University of Geneva study has concluded with the need to pay “more attention to our light environment at home and in the work place”.

University of Geneva scientists, working with others from England and Belgium, participated in a study that shows how the brain affects emotions in response to different kinds of light. Sophie Schwartz, from the university’s centre for neuroscience, tells Swisster about the significance of the research, which further explains seasonal affective disorder and why bright days can lift our spirits.


With winter drawing on and days getting shorter, many people who usually have normal mental health suffer from depression due to lack of sunlight, particularly in places where grey skies predominate at this time of year.


Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a well-known phenomenon, one that disappears on bright days when the sunshine returns, thanks to changes in the brain that have not been well understood – until now.


Researchers at the University of Geneva have concluded a study that shows how the brain responds to blue light, a part of the light spectrum that is often in short supply in the winter, particularly in northern Europe.


The research found that “blue light found in daylight has an immediate effect on the way our brain affects our emotions,” Sophie Shwartz, a neuroscientist from the university, told Swisster.


Such ambient blue light “activates a visual pathway in the brain that is not actually used for vision but for synchronizing all sorts of biological functions such as hormonal secretions and sleep-wake cycles”, Schwartz said.


“This is like a first step in the neural basis for understanding the effect of light on the brain,” she said.

The article covering this research can be found here and an abstract of the scientific article can be found here.

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