Lighting For Schools


Malillumination vs. Posillumination
"Malillumination" is to "light" as "malnutrition" is to "food".
By Laurence D. Martel, Ph.D.
National Academy of Integrative Learning, Inc.
Hilton Head Island, S. C.

There is a wealth of research indicating that the ergonomics of an environment significantly improve or retard individual and group learning performance. These elements include light, sound enhancement, color, room design, temperature, and instructional design and energy distribution. What follows is a discussion on the element of "light" as a contributor to the enhancement of learning performance and achievement. (I draw heavily from the brilliant and sensitive work of Dr. Jacob Liberman and encourage you to read his book Light: Medicine of the Future (Bear and Co. 1991), for an in-depth discussion and analysis of the research referenced in the following overview.)

"Malillumination" is the term coined by pioneer light researcher, Dr. John Ott, to describe sunlight deficiency and the negative, harmful effects of artificial pink or cool-white fluorescent lighting on behavior, learning, health, hardiness and longevity.

On the other hand, "Posillumination" is the term I have chosen to refer to those simulated sunlight environments, about which an overwhelming body of research shows the positive impact of simulated sunlight (full spectrum lighting and color) on human behavior, learning, health, hardiness and longer life.

Schools, classrooms and other work environments where people spend time learning and working under simulated sunlight (full spectrum lighting and color) experience less stress and anxiety, improved behavior and attitudes, improved health and attendance, and increased performance and academic achievement.
Research in the use of light in schools has shown that cool-white fluorescent bulbs, (which are used in virtually all classrooms) cause: bodily stress, anxiety, hyper-activity, attention problems and other distress leading to poor learning performance.

Titoff, 1999, concluded in his research that "There was a statistically significant difference between the students who worked under old-style fluorescent lights and those who worked under full-spectrum, visually-efficient lighting." This controlled study verified that depression was lowered among those students who experienced learning under full-spectrum lighting. Also, depression actually increased under standard fluorescent lights among the fourth graders. As an elementary school principal, William Titoff conducted research for his Ph.D. dissertation and discovered that when the project was completed, "the teachers with the full-spectrum lighting refused to let me take it out and put back the old-style fluorescent bulbs." 

Harmon, l938, found that over 4000 children developed observable deficiencies associated with Malillumination. In the late 1940's conditions of the learning environment (lighting, seating and decor) were instituted in schools, resulting in the following student improvements: 65% reduction in visual difficulties, 47.8% decline in nutritional problems, 43.3% reduction in chronic infections, 25.6% reduction in postural problems and, finally, 55.6% decline in chronic fatigue.
Ott, 1960, first discovered that mice lived an average of seven to eight months under pink and daylight-white fluorescent lights; whereas those mice living under natural, unfiltered daylight lived twice as long and were hardier.

In 1973, Ott studied four, first grade classes in Florida. Two classrooms were installed with full-spectrum, radiation-shielded fluorescent light fixtures, while the other two classrooms remained with the traditional cool-white fluorescent bulbs. In reporting the results of this study, Dr. Liberman stated that: "Concealed time-lapsed cameras took random sequences of students and teachers in the {four}classrooms. Although teachers were aware of the {research} program, neither they nor the students were aware of when they were being photographed.

With cool-white fluorescent lighting, some students demonstrated hyperactivity, fatigue, irritability, and attention deficits. In the classrooms with full-spectrum lighting, however, behavior and classroom performance, as well as overall academic achievement, improved markedly within one month after the new lights were installed. Furthermore, several learning-disabled children with extreme hyperactivity problems miraculously calmed down and seemed to overcome some of their learning and reading problems while in classrooms with full-spectrum lighting.

This study additionally demonstrated that children in rooms with full-spectrum lighting developed one-third of the number of cavities in their teeth as children in the classrooms with the standard cool-white fluorescent lights." (Liberman, 1991)
Hollwich, 1980, discovered that cool-white fluorescent lighting produced increased levels of stress producing hormones.

Wohlfarth and Sam, 1981, studied, according to Liberman, "the combined impact of selected colors and full-spectrum lighting on the behavior and physiology of both blind children with severe behavioral disorders and sighted children with severe handicaps." Under full-spectrum lighting, blood pressure dropped significantly and aggressive behavior reduced significantly. However, when the lights were replaced with standard cool-white fluorescent bulbs, blood pressure increased and aggressive and disorderly conduct increased. And, the blind children were equally as affected as those with sight. 

Liberman honestly laments that "For years we have been labeling and re-labeling children who appear to have difficulties we do not understand. We test and tutor them continually, only to find out that they are usually very bright but that for some reason outside of our understanding they do not achieve in the expected manner within the traditional learning environment. Although the labels for these children have changed from dumb, stupid and lazy to dyslexic, minimally brain dysfunctioned, and learning disabled, the labels nonetheless scar them for life...."
How many must suffer before we realize that stupidity is a learned behavior; that the giftedness in each individual can be tapped and developed under optimal learning ergonomics, including the strategic use of "Posillumination" and the elimination of "Malillumination".

Schools and classrooms, along with corporations and community organizations, across the country and abroad have gained award winning significant increases in student learning achievement as measured by a variety of standards. This has resulted because of an effective change in the ergonomics of learning, including changes in the elements of light, sound enhancement, room design, temperature, color, instructional design and energy distribution.

Contact: Full Spectrum Solutions, is located in Jackson, Michigan and can be contacted for technical information regarding purchase and costs. (712 East South St., Jackson, Michigan, 49203 - 1-888-574-7014 - 

They offer "ParaLite" which is a quality, full spectrum product that fits most sizes of existing electronic-magnetic and electronic ballast fixtures (generally what you have already as ceiling fixtures). ParaLite lasts two to three times longer than most fluorescent lamps. Also, ParaLite uses high quality phosphors to produce a color rendering Index of up to 93%. Factory direct pricing makes these affordable and they come with a two-year warranty.

(Copies of discussions of the other elements are available by contacting Dr. Martel at or from the website as available.)