Seeing Red Could be Good

Trying to work with clients about investment details? Try using red materials. Developing creative strategies with your team? Go with blue.

A recent study published by the journal Science found that the color red enhances performance on a detail-oriented task, whereas blue enhances performance on creative tasks. According to the study abstract, the results are evident in areas such as product design and persuasive messages.

The study set up 600 people to perform tasks on computer screens with different colored backgrounds, the New York Times reported. People with red or neutral backgrounds did better on tests of attention to detail, and those in the blue group did better at creative tasks.

For instance, the study participants were asked to study and recall a list of 36 words. Those in the white and red group could recall more words. Creativity was also put to the test by asking the participants to think of as many creative uses of a brick as possible. A panel of judges gave the blue group a higher creativity score.

Existing research reports have analyzed the effect of color on cognitive tasks—teachers, for instance, have utilized different types of colors in the classroom. The studies notes a discrepancy: Some research suggests that blue or green leads to better performances than red, and others find the opposite. The study said its research reconciles this discrepancy by demonstrating that a “red (versus blue) color induces primarily an avoidance (versus approach) motivation … and that red enhances performance on a detail-oriented tasks, whereas blue enhances performance on a creative task.”

Study researcher Juliet Zhu, an assistant professor of marketing at the business school at the University of British Columbia, explained to the NYT that a brainstorming session is good in a blue room, while the color red is good for tasks requiring enhanced memory.