Can you lighten your mood? A new study carried out by Psychologist Brian Wiltgen and biologists Ignacio Provencio and Daniel Warthen of the University of Virginia indicates that light may play a vital role in regulating fear and anxiety.
"As humans are diurnal, the absence of light can be a source of fear," Mr Wiltgen said. "But increased light can be used to reduce fear and anxiety and to treat depression.
"If we can come to understand the cellular mechanisms that affect this, then eventually abnormal anxiety and fear might be treated with improved pharmaceuticals to mimic or augment light therapy."
Using mice as models, they learned that intense light enhances fear or anxiety in the nocturnal mammals, in much the same way that darkness can intensify fear or anxiety in diurnal humans. Fear is a natural mechanism for survival. Some fears – like loud noise, sudden movements and heights – appear to be innate. Humans and other mammals also create 'learned fears' from their experiences with dangerous situations.
Understanding how light regulates learned fear may inform therapies aimed at treating fear-based disorders like anxiety, panic, specific phobias and post-traumatic stress.