Seeing red can really affect performance

Cognitive Daily discusses the findings of two interesting studies that suggest that simply seeing the colour red makes us perform worse on tests.

The articles discuss a couple of elegant studies by a research team, led by psychologist Andrew Elliot, which confirmed that seeing red makes us tend to do worse on tests. They then set about trying to understand why.

In a second study, students were given test booklets with the title in one of several possible colours. Interestingly, those who had booklets with red titles tended to choose easier questions, which led to a direct test of a neuropsychological idea about brain symmetry and avoidance:

Students who saw the red test cover chose significantly more easy test questions than either those who saw green or gray test covers. There was no significant difference between the students who saw green and gray.

So it seems that the color red in this context may cause people to avoid challenging or difficult situations. In their final experiment, the researchers took advantage of a robust experimental finding about avoidance. For more than two decades, nearly a hundred studies have found a characteristic brain activity associated with avoidance — asymmetrical activity in the right frontal cortex. This is easily measured using non-invasive EEG equipment.

The research team used exactly this technique and found that relatively greater right hemisphere was found for red material, but not other colours, suggesting red triggers part of the avoidance system.

As Cognitive Daily note, we can’t tell from these experiments whether the red and avoidance link is with us from birth, or whether we’ve just learnt it through cultural exposure.

It’s a really elegant couple of studies though, and as always, they’re wonderfully explained by the CogDaily team.

Link to ‘Does the color red really impair performance on tests?’.
Link to ‘Why does seeing red make test-takers choke?’

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