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Blue or Red? Exploring the Effect of Color on Cognitive Task Performances

Science
27 Feb 2009
Vol 323, Issue 5918
pp. 1226-1229

Abstract

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.

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References and Notes

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Materials and methods are available as supporting material on Science Online.
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We recognize that red and blue can also imply other associations. For example, red might connote excitement or femininity, whereas blue might suggest sadness. Although we acknowledge these different associations, we simply suggest that in the cognitive task domain, red is predominately associated with dangers and mistakes and blue with openness and peace. In addition, we note that the same color may have different associations across cultures (28). All our studies were run in a North American university. Thus, future research should test whether our results can be generalized to other cultures.
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All studies were run at the University of British Columbia, where students participated in exchange for either course credit (studies 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6) or money (color association study, study 3). The majority of the participants in our studies were raised in Canada, mainland China, and Hong Kong (in decreasing order of prevalence). The participants' ages ranged between 17 and 39 years.
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This work benefited from financial support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to R.J.Z. We thank J. Meyers-Levy and K. D. Vohs for very helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper. Research assistance from P. Behmardi, S. Ho, and S. Park is greatly appreciated.

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Published In

Science
Volume 323 | Issue 5918
27 February 2009

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Submission history

Received: 28 November 2008
Accepted: 5 January 2009
Published in print: 27 February 2009

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Notes

Supporting Online Material
www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/1169144/DC1
Materials and Methods
Figs. S1 to S3
Tables S1 to S3
References

Authors

Affiliations

Ravi Mehta
Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia, 2053 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z2, Canada.
Rui (Juliet) Zhu*
Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia, 2053 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z2, Canada.

Notes

*
To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: [email protected]

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