The Psychological Benefit of White Street Lights

Scientists say they make us feel safer.

Image elwynn/Shutterstock.com
elwynn/Shutterstock.com

What makes you feel safe walking at night—a companion, a phone, a battle-ax?

It could be something as simple as white street lighting. That kind of public illumination tends to assuage our fears and might even carry neurological benefits, say researchers at the University of Granada.

Antonio Manuel Peña García and collaborators surveyed 275 pedestrians out late in Granada, Spain, to see if lighting had any effect on their perception of crime and overall well-being. They found that intensely lit thoroughfares—those brightened by white LEDs, for instance, rather than yellow sodium lights—made people feel “safer and better,” according to a study in Safety Science.

Do we have something in particular against nonwhite lights? It could be more of a case of better illumination revealing the faces of strangers and putting us at ease, say the researchers. And though they caution it should be studied more by physiologists, the white light could be triggering something groovy in our brains. Here’s more from the university:

In addition, this work suggests that lights with high content of blue wavelengths (such as some of the white lights in public lighting) a greater inhibition of melatonin, the so called “sleep hormone,” something already observed in laboratory studies by teams of researchers all over the world. For the first time, this has been proven for public lighting in real transit conditions, based in the subjective answers given by the pedestrians.

Whether bold, white lighting really does make us safe is up to contention, García says, with one school of thought being it doesn’t because “even possible criminals seem to need a minimum level of illuminance in order to properly select their victims.”

H/t Treehugger. Top image: elwynn/Shutterstock.com

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.