The Science Behind The Secret Productive Powers Of The Color Blue

New research suggests that our biological clocks aren’t just tuning in to changes from dawn to dusk, the color of light has an impact, too.

The Science Behind The Secret Productive Powers Of The Color Blue
[Photo: Flickr user Sunny_mjx]

Like plants, humans respond to changes in light. The natural cycle of sunrise and sunset performs a subtle calculus on our circadian rhythm, signaling when it’s time to wake and work, and when it’s time to turn in.


Artificial lights can wreak havoc on us. Fluorescent office lights can make us work far longer–but not always better–than we would naturally be able, and the LEDs illuminating our mobile devices can disrupt sleep if we spend time with them before bed.

Now science is telling us that our biological clocks may be responding not only to the type and amount of light, but the color, too. According to a new study from the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), our eyes may be just as susceptible to the changing color of light as it dwindles through twilight.

To understand this, the researchers studied the behaviors of mice over 24-hour periods. The rodents were chosen because their eyes–like ours–are capable of seeing color when exposed to the changes of blues and yellows as they appear at dawn and dusk. The researchers then focused on the colors’ effects on an area of the brain known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus, or SCN, which is one that all vertebrates share that just so happens to control circadian rhythms.

Showing the mice different degrees of color made their neurons respond, particularly when viewing the blue light that suffuses the sky after the sun sets. Since mice are hard at work at night, the researchers discovered that when they scrambled the order of the light show for the mice using LEDs, the critters responded as they would to natural conditions.

One of the researchers, Timothy Brown, a neuroscientist at the University of Manchester in the UK, told that these findings open up the possibility to work on solutions for seasonal affective disorder or jet lag in humans. Both can be currently treated using a light box, but Brown suggests that adding color could boost the results.

Color’s Link to Productivity

It may also add another dimension to achieving maximum productivity during the workday. Several studies have shown that color can enhance the creativity and inspiration of workers in offices with painted walls.


Until there is a way to tweak the color of the bulbs illuminating our work spaces, we can do well to remember that red promotes detail work, green inspires innovation, and grey should be used sparingly because it can soak up confidence and leave depressive vibes in its wake.

Though many people say they prefer working in a room with blue walls, and the color has been known to promote calm, communication, and trust, blue is also the color that the UCSC study found that induced the mice to begin their nocturnal behavior–one of productivity. If so, that suggests we may be even more susceptible to color than we know.

About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.