How does colour affect performance?

If you’re wondering what colour to paint your room, consider red – unless you’re planning to write a novel, that is, in which case blue might be a better option.

These are the conclusions of a study published in the journal Science, which found that:

  • the colour red spurs people to work more efficiently, while
  • blue aids creativity.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia set six psychological tests to 600 volunteers. In one, they had to remember a list of words, a task they performed better when the background colour on their computers was red than when it was blue. Another test required them to think of as many uses as they could for a pile of bricks; while the scores were similar regardless of the colour of background, a blue background prompted more unusual and imaginative ideas.

According to Dr Juliet Zhu, who led the study, the effects were likely to be due to cultural, as well as natural, associations.

“Thanks to stop signs, emergency vehicles and teachers’ red pens, we associate red with danger, mistakes and caution,” she said.

“[This] makes us vigilant and helps us perform tasks where careful attention is required to produce a right or wrong answer.”

Blue, by contrast, was thought to evoke images of the sea or sky, and relax people into a creative mood.

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