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What color should you use in spaces utilized for detail-oriented vs creative tasks? New research from the University of British Columbia and published in Science Magazine* indicates that the use of red may be best to use in spaces that require sustained, focussed attention, as it may enhance performance on detailed tasks. Blue, on the other hand, was found to possibly encourage creative thinking.

Psychologically, red stimulates brain waves, and increases both heart rate and blood pressure, while blue is a calming color that decreases blood pressure and respiration.

The problem with this study, however, is that the subjects came from Canada, mainland China, and Hong Kong, with no indication of how many came from which location, and so the results may not be generalizeable, especially to the US or the rest of the West. This is in part because color has very different cultural meanings in China vs the West (and indeed different still in other cultures), which may very well affect the outcome of studies of this nature, despite any physiological impacts it may have. It’s impossible to imagine anyone being able to fully separate their psyche from their cultural surroundings and what they were raised with.

In the US, red is the color of power, excitement, anger, love, danger, and passion. In China, it symbolizes good luck. A yang color, in feng shui (a Chinese tradition), red represents fire, good luck, money, respect, recognition, and vitality.

In the US, blue represents conservativism, depression, sadness, and a bridal tradition, while in China, it is the color of immortality. In feng shui, it is a yin color that symbolizes water, calm, love, healing, relaxing, peace, trust, adventure, and exploration.

Because of the strong influence of the environment upon us in many ways, it would be a mistake to believe that what we “know” about the psychology of color is the same across cultures, absent any awareness of research that would prove otherwise. Does anyone know of any studies that have been done on the psychological effects of color in cultures other than in the US/Canada?

All that said, however, this is still interesting information. Try it yourself and see what effects working around or with each color may have on your ability to perform!

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Author(s): Ravi Mehta and Rui (Juliet) Zhu, Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

Article Title: Blue or Red? Exploring the Effect of Color on Cognitive Performance

Publisher: American Association for the Advancement of Science

Publication Type: Refereed Journal

Date of Publication: 2009

Funder/Sponsor: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to R.J.Z.

ISSN: 0036-8075

Volume: 323

Issue: 5918

Pages: 1226-1229



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