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Color me detail-oriented? Wear red. Want to be more creative at work? Paint your office blue.
Canadian researchers at the University of British Columbia analyzed the effect of color on 666 students, 17 to 39 years old, who completed detail-oriented and creative tasks presented on computer screens set to either a red, blue or white background color. The participants scored higher on detail-oriented assignments, such as memory tasks or proofreading, when completing them on a red background. They did better on tasks that called for imagination and creativity with blue.
"People think blue is always good, regardless of the circumstance, and that's not always the case," said Rui (Juliet) Zhu, assistant professor of marketing at the university. "If we were setting the room for a brainstorming session for new product development or coming up with innovative ideas for a gallery or shop, then the blue color will probably help."
The findings, which appear online Feb. 5 in Science, stem from six separate studies that tested how different hues influence cognitive performance. The researchers looked at whether certain colors made products, such as toothpaste and toys, approachable or evoked avoidance feelings in the participants. They also tested whether color affected memory and information processing, as well as creative versus detail-oriented behavior.
Researchers have long questioned the role that color plays in behavior and performance. A study published last fall in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, for instance, found that red makes men feel more amorous toward women. "We've done a study of these kind of associations, and what we find is that of the terms we looked at, red turns up on top for associations for a number of different things: angry, aggressive, strong, courageous, frustrated and lustful," said Stephen E. Palmer, a professor of psychology and cognitive science at the University of California, Berkeley.
Zhu agreed, to a degree. "Because we constantly see red paired with ambulance, blood, emergency, it gets our vigilant attention because we want to avoid these things," she said. "Blue skies and oceans are open and peaceful things. Therefore, they encourage a more innovative search of strategy."