Blue 'mood' lights mimicking sunny skies may increase your stress, EC researchers say | Earlham College Skip to Content
Wangchen Tsering '17 (left), and Sarah Murphy '17 used blue "mood" lights and ice water to study the relationship between pain and stress as part of a research project supported by the National Science Foundation.

Blue 'mood' lights mimicking sunny skies may increase your stress, EC researchers say

March 02, 2017

Psy ResearchLight boxes that mimic the color of a sunny blue sky won’t minimize stress or offer respite for physical pain, according to a preliminary study by researchers at Earlham College.

“Some people utilize commercially available light boxes to improve mood, particularly during the winter,” says Beth Mechlin, assistant professor of psychology. “However, results of this ongoing study indicate that a brief exposure to blue light did not influence pain sensitivity, but may influence perceptions of stress. Additionally, perception of current pain may be influenced by past painful experiences.

“Further research on these issues is warranted,” she says.

Mechlin’s team — Sarah Murphy ’17, Wangchen Tsering ’17, Tim Toniga ’16 and Daisy Vargas of Smith College — has been invited to present its findings at the American Psychosomatic Society’s annual meeting in Sevilla, Spain, taking place from March 15 to 18.

Murphy and Vargas will represent the team in Spain with support from Earlham and the National Science Foundation, the funding agency supporting both this research and a broader summer research experience on campus for undergraduates in neuroscience.

“I was so excited to learn that our abstract was selected,” Murphy says. “This project gave me the opportunity to see a study go from start to finish, minus the published paper. We developed the study from our professor’s own research interests and turned it into a successful and apparently intriguing study. I think that having this kind of work under my belt is definitely helpful for my future plans in research.”

Collaborative research is one of the hallmarks of an Earlham education. It is supported by the Earlham Plan for Integrative Collaboration (EPIC), a comprehensive program that builds on Earlham’s historic strengths in undergraduate research, off-campus study, internships and interdisciplinary education.

For this project, the student research team studied 37 participants in summer 2016 by randomly assigning them to sit in a room with a blue light on or off for 20 minutes. During the time period, they relaxed and colored for 10 minutes, then filled out questionnaires about perceived stress and pain history. After the questionnaires, participants were asked to put their hand in a container of cold water and answered questions related to their pain threshold.

The study seeks to better understand the behavioral effects of exposure to bright light.  The use of light boxes is proposed to activate a portion of the brain associated with the circadian rhythm, resulting in the release of neurotransmitters that are also associated with stress and pain.

— EC —

Earlham College, a national liberal arts college located in Richmond, Indiana, is a "College That Changes Lives." We expect our students to be fully present: to think rigorously, value directness and genuineness, and actively seek insights from differing perspectives. The values we practice at Earlham are rooted in centuries of Quaker tradition, but they also constitute the ideal toolkit for contemporary success. Earlham is one of only 40 national liberal arts colleges ranked among U.S. News and World Reports' "Great Schools at a Great Price."

Brian Zimmerman is director of media relations at Earlham College. He can be reached at 765-983-1256 and 




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