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How Sensory Perceptions Influence our Mood, Productivity, and More

You know the obvious ways in which your senses affect your mood. An egregiously foul smell, a glaring light, a grating noise, or being sweltering or freezing certainly lead to discomfort. 


But your senses impact your mood in much subtler ways. This impact may even be imperceptible to your conscious mind, but the result matters. Have you ever breathed a sigh of relief when a fan or refrigerator hum stops, even though you hadn’t even noticed that it was on? 


Researchers are giving increasing weight to the role that our sensory perceptions play in influencing our mood, productivity, and more. 


This applies to the places in which we work, sleep, and play. 


For example, Psychology Today recently reported on a study from Northwestern University in Chicago, which found “a strong relationship between workplace daylight exposure and office workers’ sleep, activity, and quality of life.” As long as there’s enough light in your office to read and complete your daily tasks, you might not give a second through to how bad fluorescent lighting and inadequate natural light could be negatively affecting you. 


Another study found that noise pollution in the workplace — something as innocent as being able to overhear other people talking while you’re trying to read or write — can cause your productivity levels to plummet by 66%. 


Feeling a bit chilly in your office? It could be causing you to make mistakes. Alan Hedge, professor of design and environmental analysis at Cornell University, found that bumping office temperature from 66 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit cut down on the errors made by office typists by a whopping 44%. (We’re not suggesting that you crank the heat up to 77, since that sounds genuinely uncomfortable, but it’s important to be aware of how temperature affects performance.) 


The office isn’t the only place sensory perception matters. There’s a reason that when people want to relax, many of them light candles or find a fireplace, grab a glass of something delicious, and locate a comfortable seat. And when someone needs to get pumped up for a good work-out, it helps if they’re not also smelling stinking gym bags and hearing the people next to them yell on their cell phones. 


The next time you’re in a place where you spend a lot of time (work, home, the gym, your favorite restaurant), stop and take a moment to assess what your senses are taking in. What do you hear, taste, touch, smell, and see? Is there something you’ve just been tolerating? How could it be better? 


Choose to surround yourself with sensory elements that enhance whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish. Once you do, it’ll be like finally fixing that darn refrigerator hum — only infinitely better.