The Temporal Sweet Spot

A study carried out at Barrow Neurological Institute in Arizona looked into how humans perceive light. A discovery into the details of human light perception could change the way light-emitting devices are designed. Human visual perception can be leveraged to design better, more efficient lighting systems.

“The discovery concerns the way humans perceive temporal modulations of light. For example, most light-emitting devices, such as light bulbs, video monitors and televisions, flicker.

“Faster flicker rates result in a reduced perception of flicker, which is more comfortable to viewers…There is a range of flicker dynamics of light that optimizes the perceived brightness of the light without increasing power.

“(There is) a temporal sweet spot in visual perception that can be exploited to obtain significant savings by redesigning light emitting devices to flicker with optimal dynamics…”

light pollution, Earth, night, satellite, NOAA
Composite image of Earth by night.
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) via Lighting Research Center

Implementing design changes for optimal human visual perception could save billions of energy dollars per year in the United States alone.

What I find especially interesting about this study, besides the obvious potential environmental and economic benefits, is this: The researchers weren’t looking for the temporal sweet spot.

They found it because they were looking into discrepancies between two contradictory theories of human visual perception, Bloch’s Law and the Broca-Sulzer Effect. In doing so, they came up with a major advance in temporal vision research.

If there are answers as profound as those that can help designers optimize devices for human perception, then what other areas lie unexplored in the narrow spaces between existing theories and research results?

Circles, light, research, visual impressions
Writing With Light And Painting With Light (2012)
Photo: Zaheer Shah

What hidden corners aren’t we exploring, and how can find them?

Maybe what we need is a map of the dark canyons for some targeted spelunking.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Optimizing the temporal dynamics of light to human perception” is believed to be the first attempt to tune light emitting devices to the optimal temporal dynamics of the the human visual system.