Monday, May 21, 2007

Red--it's not just for bulls anymore

Don't like red pen? Turns out you're not the only one, according to a new study by Andrew Elliott and colleagues titled, "Color and Psychological Functioning: The Effect of Red on Performance Attainment" in the February edition of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

Using several different experiments, the researchers found that even a brief glimpse of the color red can lower scores on achievement tasks. For example, one of the experiments involving nearly 300 U.S. and German high school and undergraduate students found that simply looking at a red participant number (versus black or green) prior to completing an IQ test resulted in a performance decrease.

The authors hypothesize that the color red evokes an anxiety response which in turn interferes with the ability to complete the task. Where does the anxiety come from? Some possibilities, according to the authors, include:

- Evolution: we may be hardwired to respond to red (think of the association between red and aggression in nature)

- Daily life: red is often associated with warnings or commands (e.g., stop lights, stop signs, dash lights)

- School: who didn't cringe a little when they saw red marks on their essays or tests in school? Maybe you even have a supervisor who does this?

Lesson: be careful with using red in testing material. There's enough error out there being introduced in testing situations without worrying about color.

So...did this article make you nervous?

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