Visual Darkness Reduces Perceived Risk of Contagious-Disease Transmission From Interpersonal Interaction

  • Ping Dong (Creator)
  • Chen Bo Zhong (Contributor)



We examined the psychological impact of visual darkness on people’s perceived risk of contagious-disease transmission. We posited that darkness triggers an abstract construal level and increases perceived social distance from others, rendering threats from others to seem less relevant to the self. We found that participants staying in a dimly lit room (Studies 1 and 3–5) or wearing sunglasses (Study 2) tended to estimate a lower risk of catching contagious diseases from others than did those staying in a brightly lit room or wearing clear glasses. The effect persisted in both laboratory (Studies 1–4) and real-life settings (Study 5). The effect arises because visual darkness elevates perceived social distance from the contagion (Study 3) and is attenuated among abstract (vs. concrete) thinkers (Study 4). These findings delineate a systematic, unconscious influence of visual darkness—a subtle yet pervasive situational factor—on perceived risk of contagion. Theoretical contributions and policy implications are discussed.
Date made available2018

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