Research Article: Let the sunshine in? The effects of luminance on economic preferences, choice consistency and dominance violations

Date Published: August 4, 2017

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Paul W. Glimcher, Agnieszka Tymula, Giovanni Ponti.


Weather, in particular the intensity and duration of sunshine (luminance), has been shown to significantly affect financial markets. Yet, because of the complexity of market interactions we do not know how human behavior is affected by luminance in a way that could inform theoretical choice models. In this paper, we use data from a field study using an incentive-compatible, decision task conducted daily over a period of two years and from the US Earth System Research Laboratory luminance sensor to investigate the impact of luminance on risk preferences, ambiguity preferences, choice consistency and dominance violations. We find that luminance levels affect all of these. Age and gender influence the strength of some of these effects.

Partial Text

Biological studies now clearly indicate that exposure to outdoor light-levels which can range across 6 orders of magnitude in intensity causally influence a range of neuroanatomical circuits and a range of behaviors mediated by these circuits. Dedicated luminance sensors in the human retina carry continuous cardinal information about light levels ranging from bright sunlight (300 watts/m2) to the intensity of indoor electric lighting (<1 watt/m2) directly to the hypothalamus, an evolutionarily ancient structure located at the base of the human brain. There, this information influences the neural circuits that are now known to regulate when we want to sleep, mood, daily and seasonal patterns of when we are hungry or sated, and a host of other circuits known to be related to our preferences [1–5]. Complementary psychological studies have also made it clear that light levels across the intensity found in the natural environment (independent of its covariates) do influence many of our fundamental time-varying traits and properties, just as would be predicted from an analysis of these luminance-related neural circuits. Absolute luminance level, for example, strongly influences food choice [6] and light levels can exert such a strong effect on mood that a sharp reduction in absolute light levels can induce clinical depression in as many as 10 or 20% of the human population [7]. In fact, a highly effective clinical treatment for this class of depression is simply exposure to additional light [8], a fact that strengthens the conclusion that light itself is a causal actor in psychological state. Recent evidence suggests that mood, as measured reliably and repeatedly by psychologists, can strongly influence all kinds of preferences. At an economic level, there is also now some direct evidence that light levels influence human choice. A growing body of literature has shown, for example, that weather and seasons affect economic outcomes in financial markets [9–14]. The New York University and the National Academy of Sciences’ Institutional Review Boards approved research. Data was collected at the National Academy of Sciences Museum in Washington, DC. Three touch screens were mounted in a kiosk at the museum and were used to collect responses from the study participants as a part of a larger exhibition on aging (Life Lab: Aging). In the paper we present incentive compatible data collected over a two-year period (from May 2012 to May 2014) from these kiosks. It is now well-established that light exposure affects essentially all aspects of animal life and influences affective states in humans. In the most extreme cases, when light exposure is limited people become seasonally depressed–a mental state often associated anecdotally with altered risk preferences. And in fact, these biological effects of light are mediated through neurobiological pathways now known to be involved in preference regulation [45–47]. In this paper we tested the neurobiological and psychological hypothesis that either relative or absolute light levels (both of which are encoded neurobiologically) can influence our most basic preferences: risk attitude, ambiguity attitude, choice consistency and propensity to choose dominated options. We used an incentive-compatible task to estimate these preferences in a total of 2530 participants, over a period of two years. The study took place in the US National Academy of Sciences Museum in Washington, DC. This is an ideal geographical location for such a study due to a large seasonal and daily variation in luminance in this region.   Source:


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