The color red boosts attention to detail in tasks such as memorization, while blue encourages creativity, according to a study published online Thursday in the journal Science.
The findings apply to advertising, warnings on medication, and especially environmental design for offices or classrooms, said Rui (Juliet) Zhu, who teaches marketing at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
Zhu, who wrote the study with Ph.D. student Ravi Mehta, recommends that marketers selling creative or innovative products use blue, and brainstorming sessions be held in blue rooms. Using red in advertising would prompt consumers to pay more attention to product details, she said.
Previously the effect of color on performance was a mystery because earlier studies, which did not match colors to different kinds of tasks, yeiled conflicting results, said Zhu, who also studied psychology.
Zhu and Mehta ran six tests involving 600 university students working at computer monitors with a background set in blue, red or white for control groups.
The students performed significantly better or worse at creative or detail-oriented tasks depending on the color, Zhu told AFP.
She said red enhances performance on jobs that require alert vigilance because people associated red with stop signs, emergencies, ambulances and danger. People react to red with an "avoidance mechanism ... you're likely to be vigilant, so you do better on detail-oriented tasks," she said.
Blue encouraged creativity because people associate it with "ocean, sky, freedom, openness, peacefulness," said Zhu. A peaceful environment "makes people engage in exploratory behavior and enhances their creativity."
The color reactions are likely not innate but are instead "learned associations we gather from daily life," said Zhu.
She warned that because the research used only North American test subjects, the tests could have results elsewhere.
"Where I'm from, China, red is associated with prosperity, good fortune and luck, so I'd look for different results there," said Zhu.