Astounding Effect of the Color Blue

If you want to boost your creativity, paint the walls of your office blue. If you want to enhance your memory, immerse yourself in red.

A study from the University of British Columbia concludes that the best color to boost our ability to think creatively is blue. In addition, it found that red is the most effective at enhancing our attention to detail, findings that could have major implications for advertising and interior design.

"Previous research linked blue and red to enhanced cognitive performance, but disagreed on which provides the greatest boost," Juliet Zhu of UBC's Sauder School of Business and lead author of the study, said in a statement. "It really depends on the nature of the task."

The study: Over a two-year period, Zhu and her colleague Ravi Mehta tracked more than 600 participants' performance on six cognitive tasks that required either detail-orientation or creativity. Most experiments were conducted on computers with a screen that was red, blue or white.

The results:

  • Red boosted performance on detail-oriented tasks such as memory retrieval and proofreading by as much as 31 percent compared to blue.
  • For creative tasks such as brainstorming, blue environmental cues prompted participants to produce twice as many creative outputs as when under the red color condition.

These variances are caused by different unconscious motivations that red and blue activate, says Zhu, noting that color influences cognition and behavior through learned associations. "Thanks to stop signs, emergency vehicles and teachers' red pens, we associate red with danger, mistakes and caution," says Zhu. "The avoidance motivation, or heightened state, that red activates makes us vigilant and thus helps us perform tasks where careful attention is required to produce a right or wrong answer."

Conversely, blue encourages us to think outside the box and be creative, says Zhu, noting that the majority of participants believed incorrectly that blue would enhance their performance on all cognitive tasks. "Through associations with the sky, the ocean and water, most people associate blue with openness, peace and tranquility," Zhu explains. "The benign cues make people feel safe about being creative and exploratory. Not surprisingly it is people's favorite color."

The study findings were published in the journal Science.

--From the Editors at Netscape

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