Shining light on memory: Effects of bright light on working memory performance

L.M. Huiberts, K.C.H.J. Smolders, Y.A.W. de Kort

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This study examined whether diurnal non-image forming (NIF) effects of illuminance level on cognitive task performance depend on task difficulty and time of day. We employed a balanced crossover design with two 60-min sessions of 200 vs. 1000 lux at eye level. Digit-span task difficulty was manipulatedwithin subjects (forward (FDST) vs. backward (BDST) digit-span task), n-back task difficulty was manipulated between subjects (n = 1, 2, or 3). Bright light exposure improved FDST performance during the final measurement block, especially in the afternoon. In contrast, BDST performance deteriorated slightly under bright light in the afternoon. Two-back performance was significantly worse under bright lighting the afternoon, while no effect of illuminance level was found on 3-back performance. Thus, the more difficult BDST was affected differently by light intensity as compared to the easier FDST. N-back accuracy, however, did not confirm this role of task difficulty. Future studies should investigate whether similar results hold for other types of tasks and how other variables (e.g., time of day, physiological arousal, or other task characteristics) may influence the direction and magnitude of NIF effects on performance.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)234-245
Number of pages12
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Lighting; Memory; Performance


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