Blue Light Districts

Window shopping WNC style
Window shopping WNC style

There are many unintended consequences. A quick search of the Interweb will keep you goggle eyed for hours. And most of them are bad. Really bad. Simple things like cutting funding for birth control can lead to the state spending millions on orphans and neglected kids. This is called “bad” in case you’re unsure. But not every unintended consequence is an opening into hell. For example, I have been shopping a novel, just like you, and it has earned me a couple of new friends who have made my life better. Still haven’t sold the book but their input has made it a better project and gives me a much better chance. Also, I have gotten coffee. I like coffee.

When you look at the title of today’s post you probably thought of something like the pic I posted. And that’s fine. A leisurely stroll through a fishnet fantasy never hurt anyone.. But, oddly enough, it is not our topic today. No, today is one of those unintended consequence things. This one turns out well.

Well, I can’t be depressing all the time.

John M. Grohol, Psy.D., of PsychCentral, a web site for mental health specialists, reports that cities are installing blue lights and people are stopping killing themselves and each other.

An intriguing, anecdotal finding was recently reported by some news outlets that the implementation of blue-colored streetlights has reduced both crime and suicides:

Glasgow, Scotland, introduced blue street lighting to improve the city’s landscape in 2000. Afterward, the number of crimes in areas illuminated in blue noticeably decreased.

The Nara, Japan, prefectural police set up blue street lights in the prefecture in 2005, and found the number of crimes decreased by about 9 percent in blue-illuminated neighborhoods. Many other areas nationwide have followed suit.

Keihin Electric Express Railway Co. changed the color of eight lights on the ends of platforms at Gumyoji Station in Yokohama, Japan, in February.

Since the railway company introduced the new blue lights, they’ve had no new suicide attempts.

This effect may be attributed to a few possible reasons (some of which are mentioned in the comments section of the article):

  • The light color is new and unusual, causing people to act more cautiously in the area (as a person is unsure what to expect in the unusually-lit area).
  • Blue is a light color almost universally associated with a police presence, suggesting it is an area of stricter law enforcement.
  • Blue may be a more pleasant illuminating color to most people, as opposed to yellow, orange or red (according to some research, such as Lewinski, 1938).

In fact, the article quotes from a professor at the end, noting it may just be an “unusualness effect:”

Prof. Tsuneo Suzuki at Keio University said: “There are a number of pieces of data to prove blue has a calming effect upon people. However, it’s an unusual color for lighting, so people may just feel like avoiding standing out by committing crimes or suicide under such unusual illumination. It’s a little risky to believe that the color of lighting can prevent anything.”

There is a lot of research into the psychology of color, but not as much has looked into the color of blue illumination itself (as opposed to the color of an object or wall). But some research looking into short wavelength light (blue) has demonstrated that it is a potentially effective treatment for seasonal affective disorder (a seasonal type of depression; see for instance, Glickman, et al., 2006), and helps to reduce the stress response in fish (it hasn’t been yet tested on humans).

If this finding is robust and the behavior change associated with it is still prevalent a few years from now (when everyone has become accustomed to the new light color), it would be an interesting finding. A simple, inexpensive change might be effective in helping reduce at least one method of suicide (and reduce crime to boot).

What is interesting about this is the consistency. This has been happening for 13 years now and shows no sign of abating. They put up blue street lights and crime and suicides drop between 9% and 10%, depending on how you slice the data.

Plus there is anecdotal evidence that people in these areas are, in general, nicer.

As noted above there has been a ton of research done on the effects of colors on people’s emotions but very little done on the effects of light.

I will say this. I have a friend who suffered seasonal depression. He was just a mess in the winter. He tried several drugs over the years to minimal avail. Then, two years ago, his doctor suggested he try a blue light. He hit the hardware store, bought a few and installed them. He’s been fine ever since.

As he says, he doesn’t care if it is the silliest thing he’s ever done, he feels normal again.

Given the crime rate in America this seems worth a shot.

As it were.

Blue Light Special w/ The Real Classic from TheRealClassic on Vimeo.

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