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U.S. Army Investigates Shelter Lighting Effects on Soldier Cognitive Performance

Researchers at the U.S. Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) are now studying the impact of different types of lighting in military shelters on soldiers, according to U.S. Army report.

The study is especially examining the effect of lighting on mood, visual acuity, cognitive alertness/awareness, and ability to perform.

Two types of lights are being investigated in the study including the traditional fluorescent light and LED. Color temperatures studied range from low color temperature yellow and reds to high color temperatures of blue or white. A total of 24 soldiers between ages 18 to 31 participated in the study that took place at NSRDEC for five days.
A Soldier completes a color discrimination task under light-emitting diode lighting during a recent study at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center. The study is looking at the links between lighting and cognitive performance.
Three LED systems were analyzed to see how the technological differences compare, and how the lighting affects soldiers, said Breanne Hawes, member of the Cognitive Science Team and lead researcher on this particular project. The study found compared to fluorescent lighting, LED lighting was able to generate a more positive mood in the work environment, increased alertness and faster performance on visual perceptual and cognitive tasks. In comparison, under fluorescent lighting, soldiers were more likely to be less alert, more fatigued and depressed over time. Solders also had a slower response time on cognitive tasks measuring spatial and verbal memory under the traditional light.

“The ultimate aim of the project is to develop efficient spaces that promote well being,” said Breanne Hawes, member of the Cognitive Science Team and lead researcher on this particular project. One of the goals of the study is to predict and enhance cognitive performance to help shape technology and material development, explained Caroline Mahoney, leader of the Cognitive Science Team. On this study, the Cognitive Science Team worked with the Shelters Team and the Special Projects Team.

 “There is a ton of past research on what lighting can do to humans,” Hawes said. “It can affect how sleepy you are, your sleeping patterns, or how productive you are. But this has rarely been studied as a military application.”

“This study is important because it is the first study that has considered the tradeoff between the differences in cost between the lighting technologies and the impact of the lighting on Soldier mood and performance,” Mahoney said.

The findings from the study could have both military and industrial applications in helping designers develop work environment lighting that helps improve concentration and mood.