In 1913, Louis Brandeis gave transparency campaigners their motto: “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants” — i.e., people behave better when they don’t feel like they can hide their misdeeds. And a new experiment shows that this is almost literally true. More light makes people act more ethically. It doesn’t even have to be sunlight — more fluorescent light will do.
Experiments showed people in a brightly lit room donated more than twice as much as those in a dim room, and were more likely to offer to help others. …
In one experiment, men and women were told they were playing a game which involved sharing money between themselves and a stranger said to be in another room. Those in the brightest room offered around 15 per cent more of the cash than those in the moderately lit room, and around 30 per cent more than the people in the dimmest room.
People in the brighter rooms also “volunteered to code more data sheets than did participants in moderate brightness,” the researchers report. And there are not many activities that are more tedious than coding data sheets. It’s unclear, though, if the researchers took into account the possibility that people in darker rooms were at greater risk of damaging their eyesight by squinting at data sheets in relative darkness.
This suggests a natural end to the lightbulb wars, where environmentalists want to move to efficient LED and compact fluorescent bulbs, and conservatives decry their fascist efforts to dictate people’s lighting choices. If we can just get one round of super-efficient, potentially super-bright LED bulbs into everyone’s sockets, they’ll be more inclined to buy efficient lighting in the future, because of all the good it will do the world! (OK, we’re extrapolating a bit. But we can hope, can’t we?)