Red vs Blue

By | February 10, 2009

I’ve heard of colour affecting mood, but not performance. Interesting paper in last week’s Science on several studies examining performance and creativity in various tasks when using a computer with different background colours. It seems surprising to me that they were able to get significant differences simply by changing the background colour, not the content, or anything else.

Existing research reports inconsistent findings with regard to the effect of color on cognitive task performances. Some research suggests that blue or green leads to better performances than red; other studies record the opposite. Current work reconciles this discrepancy. We demonstrate that red (versus blue) color induces primarily an avoidance (versus approach) motivation (study 1, n = 69) and that red enhances performance on a detail-oriented task, whereas blue enhances performance on a creative task (studies 2 and 3, n = 208 and 118). Further, we replicate these results in the domains of product design (study 4, n = 42) and persuasive message evaluation (study 5, n = 161) and show that these effects occur outside of individuals’ consciousness (study 6, n = 68). We also provide process evidence suggesting that the activation of alternative motivations mediates the effect of color on cognitive task performances.

Blue or Red? Exploring the Effect of Color on Cognitive Task Performances. Ravi Mehta and Rui (Juliet) Zhu (5 February 2009) Science [DOI: 10.1126/science.1169144]

Why am I posting this?
I’m interested in pretty much any verifiable means of enhancing human cognitive performance, even if they seem a bit odd. If background colour affects us sufficiently that our performance and mood changes, I have to wonder what would happen if our whole vision was tinted. And, what does my green screen background colour mean? Interesting, if kooky-sounding, idea for augmenting reality. Brings to mind the general idea of using AR as a simple means of interposing image processing between the viewer and the viewed. Could be particularly useful for people with various vision deficiencies and colour blindness.

Also, interesting point about likely variation between North American students (as interviewed in the study) and students of other nationalities.

via Cosmos