Monday, February 09, 2009

The Brain Reacts To Color

A new University of British Columbia study gives some new insight, and maybe your clothing choice of color for tomorrow!

The authors of the study published in the Feb. 5 issue of Science, Juliet Zhu and Ravi Mehta, found that both colors enhance performance, but in different ways, depending on the nature of your task. While the color red tends to be most effective at enhancing our attention to detail, blue works best at boosting our ability to think creatively.

Between 2007 and 2008, the researchers 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.

When the participants were given attention-demanding or detail-oriented tasks such as memory retrieval and proofreading, they did best when primed with the color red, by as much as 31%!

Asked to be creative on tasks like brainstorming, they responded best to blue, sometimes producing twice as many creative ideas as when they were sitting in front of the red computer screen.

The colors red and blue influence our behavior sometimes through learned associations. "Thanks to stop signs, emergency vehicles and teachers' red pens, we associate red with danger, mistakes and caution," says Zhu. "People want to avoid those things, and that's why they do better on detail-oriented tasks."

Conversely, blue encourages us to think outside the box and be creative, says Zhu. "Through associations with the sky, the ocean and water, most people associate blue with openness, peace and tranquility," says Zhu. "The benign cues make people feel safe about being creative and exploratory. Not surprisingly it is people's favorite color."

So what can we take away from this? Zhu suggests that people engaged in creative tasks surround themselves with blue, and with red when trying to focus.

That means, if you've got a big day coming up at work or school really needing all your best focused brain power, look in your closet for something red to wear. But if you're trying to compose a poem to a special Valentine this weekend, or present a new major marketing campaign to your boss, then maybe your blue sweater's in order!

[research by the John Tesh staff]

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