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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

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Color Yourself Cautious or Creative

Study: Choose Red to Focus and Blue for Free Thinking
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 5, 2009 -- The colors red and blue have more going for them than their looks; they could affect how focused or creative you are.

That's according to a new color association study published in Science Express, the advance online edition of the journal Science.

Here are the key findings: The color red makes people more detail-oriented, the color blue boosts creativity, and those color effects often fly under people's radar.

Ravi Mehta, MBA, and Rui (Juliet) Zhu, PhD, of the Sauder School of Business at Canada's University of British Columbia, conducted six color studies comparing the effects of the colors red and blue.

No fancy color names here -- Mehta and Zhu aren't talking about Fire Engine vs. Rosy Dawn or Midnight vs. Turquoise. Just plain old "red" and "blue" of the same intensity and brightness.

Mehta and Zhu tested red vs. blue in six studies. In each study, undergraduates, none of whom was color blind, conducted different tasks, including memorizing words shown on a computer screen with a blue or red screen saver, designing a child's toy from blue or red objects, and copyediting an address list.

Red for Focus, Blue for Creativity

In each study, the students were more focused when their tasks had a "red" element and more creative when they were in "blue" mode.

For instance, when their screen saver was red, they were more accurate on the memory test and they were better copy editors. They also designed more practical toys from the red objects. That may be because red is a signal to pay attention and be cautious, such as in stop signs, Mehta and Zhu note.

For creativity, blue was the way to go. The students created more original, if not terribly practical, toys from the blue objects. And they were better at coming up with creative but not impossible uses for a brick -- such as using it as a scratching post for animals -- when they were in blue screen saver mode.

When asked whether red or blue would be better to enhance focus and which would be better to encourage creativity, the students picked blue both times -- maybe because they like that color better, according to the researchers.

Mehta and Zui conclude that certain colors might be better suited to different tasks.

"If the task requires people's vigilant attention (e.g., memorizing important information or understanding the side effects of a new drug), then red ... might be particularly appropriate," the researchers write.

"However," Mehta and Zui continue, "if the task calls for creativity and imagination (e.g., designing an art shop, or a new product idea brainstorming session), then blue ... would be more beneficial."

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