Light and Cognitive Function, Emotion / 3 Papers

Comment: The effects of light, sleep, food and the environment on individual cognition, mental states, and physiology are complex and huge. Personally, I have always seemed to be “at the mercy of” specific environmental conditions: the amount of sunlight is crucial. I must be outdoors for some period each day; a string of overcast days and I’m nervous, restless and depressed. A “far horizon” landscape (such as my Wyoming desert badlands) puts me at ease, and refreshes my energy levels; forested and rainy environments are not compatible with my physiology or personality. I feel “claustrophobic” among those lush green landscapes that many people crave. 
Trends Cogn Sci. 2009 Oct;13(10):429-38. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2009.07.004. Epub 2009 Sep 12.

Light as a modulator of cognitive brain function.


Humans are a diurnal species usually exposed to light while engaged in cognitive tasks. Light not only guides performance on these tasks through vision but also exerts non-visual effects that are mediated in part by recently discovered retinal ganglion cells maximally sensitive to blue light. We review recent neuroimaging studies which demonstrate that the wavelength, duration and intensity of light exposure modulate brain responses to (non-visual) cognitive tasks. These responses to light are initially observed in alertness-related subcortical structures (hypothalamus, brainstem, thalamus) and limbic areas (amygdala and hippocampus), followed by modulations of activity in cortical areas, which can ultimately affect behaviour. Light emerges as an important modulator of brain function and cognition.

PMID: 19748817 DOI:10.1016/j.tics.2009.07.004
J Physiol Anthropol. 2016; 35: 9.
Published online 2016 Mar 15. doi:  10.1186/s40101-016-0091-9 
PMID: 26980095

Light-sensitive brain pathways and aging

Two functional systems detecting light: photoreceptor contribution and neural pathways

From a functional point of view, there are two systems detecting light in mammals and humans. The first one is the classical visual system responsible for image formation, and the second one is the non-image-forming (NIF) system which detects environmental irradiance and contributes to modulation of many fundamental functions in living organisms. The physiological, behavioral, and cognitive functions which are modulated by light but not associated with conscious image perception are called NIF functions. These responses include circadian entrainment and shift the timing of circadian rhythms such as hormone secretion (melatonin, cortisol), heart rate, body temperature, and the sleep-wake cycle. These NIF effects are detected hours or days following light exposure. NIF responses also include acute physiological effects of light detected more rapidly, including melatonin suppression, pupillary constriction, alertness, and performance improvement as well as cognitive brain responses [15].

Front Behav Neurosci. 2018 Jan 23;12:4. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2018.00004. eCollection 2018.


Biological Clocks and Rhythms of Anger and Aggression.


The body’s internal timekeeping system is an under-recognized but highly influential force in behaviors and emotions including anger and reactive aggression. Predictable cycles or rhythms in behavior are expressed on several different time scales such as circadian (circa diem, or approximately 24-h rhythms) and infradian (exceeding 24 h, such as monthly or seasonal cycles). The circadian timekeeping system underlying rhythmic behaviors in mammals is constituted by a network of clocks distributed throughout the brain and body, the activity of which synchronizes to a central pacemaker, or master clock. Our daily experiences with the external environment including social activity strongly influence the exact timing of this network. In the present review, we examine evidence from a number of species and propose that anger and reactive aggression interact in multiple ways with circadian clocks. Specifically, we argue that: (i) there are predictable rhythms in the expression of aggression and anger; (ii) disruptions of the normal functioning of the circadian system increase the likelihood of aggressive behaviors; and (iii) conversely, chronic expression of anger can disrupt normal rhythmic cycles of physiological activities and create conditions for pathologies such as cardiovascular disease to develop. Taken together, these observations suggest that a comprehensive perspective on anger and reactive aggression must incorporate an understanding of the role of the circadian timing system in these intense affective states.

PMCID: PMC5787107 DOI: 10.3389/fnbeh.2018.00004

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Figure 2

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Overview of aggressive behaviors that have been observed to exhibit either seasonal (infradian) or daily (circadian) rhythmicity in humans or non-human species. In terms of infradian rhythms, seasonal changes in daylight length may trigger a variety of hormonal changes that alter the activity of brain structures implicated in aggression such as the ventromedial hypothalamus (VMH). For circadian rhythms, the genetic clockwork that underlies daily cycles of behavior regulates a variety of genes (CCGs, e.g., mao-a; eaat; serotonin receptors including 5htb). In turn, these genes influence the activity of neurotransmitter systems within brain networks involving structures such as the amygdala and striatum. These changes in activation patterns may increase the probability of expressing anger and hostility.


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