For many of us, reading outside is a pleasant experience. Whether it’s by the pool, on the beach or at the park, reading outdoors can be fun.

Now we have more reason to enjoy outdoor reading because a new study has revealed that reading printed pages outdoors is actually better for your eyes than grabbing a book indoors.

Scientists say that outdoor lighting improves contrast levels, making it easier for you to see the letters on the page.

Woman Read Book
Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels

The team hopes the findings will encourage people to step outside to read if they can.

In the study, researchers from the State University of New York College of Optometry set out to understand the benefits of reading in different light conditions.

Dr Hamed Rahimi-Nasrabadi, who led the study, said: ‘The amount of light is continuously changing in our visual world.

‘Our work demonstrates image brightness changes our sensitivity to light and dark contrast to efficiently extract information from natural scenes.’

He added: ‘Findings from the investigation conclude you can now feel good when you decide to read your favourite book outdoors.


‘You can say it is scientifically proven visual contrast increases outdoors and, therefore, reading under bright light stimulates your visual brain more effectively, allows you to see the letters better, and helps your eyesight.’

In a series of tests on both cats and humans the team measured the response of visual neurons in response to dark or light squares.

Participants wore EEG (electroencephalography) skullcaps that monitor brainwaves.

The results revealed that visual contrast increased outdoors, indicating that reading under bright light stimulates your visual brain more effectively.

Dr Rahimi-Nasrabadi said: ‘To our surprise we found the shape of the luminance-response function changed with both the range and black and white polarity.’

In vision, luminance contrast describes the difference in light intensity between a stimulus and its surroundings.

It is what makes a dark letter easier to read than a grey letter in a white page.


However, vision research has operated for decades under the assumption that luminance contrast does not change with light intensity.

That is, a dark letter in a white page is assumed to have the same contrast outdoors under the brightest light than indoors under the dimmest light.

The study shows this decades-old assumption is incorrect and can cause important measurement errors.

It has implications in basic research, the eye clinic and the multiple disciplines that depend on accurate estimates of visual contrast.

The findings show that, as with visual sharpness, contrast sensitivity is strongly dependent on the amount of light.


Increasing the amount of light shifts the contrast sensitivity for stimuli darker or lighter than their surroundings in opposite directions.

It improves the discrimination of the darkest contrasts – making it easier to see subtle differences in eye shadow – while severely impairing the discrimination of the brightest contrasts.

Dr Rahimi-Nasrabadi said: ‘The opposite shifts of dark and light contrast with light intensity can be demonstrated in neurons of the visual cortex, natural scenes, and appear to be well preserved across different species of mammals.

‘The new findings can be also used to improve current algorithms of image processing and metrics of visual contrast.’