Trying to improve your performance at work/school or write that novel? Maybe it’s time to consider the colour of your walls or your computer screen. Research shows that the colour red makes us more cautious and attentive to details, while blue makes us more creative and receptive to new ideas.
Scientists at the University of British Columbia studied more than 600 people as they performed various tasks, usually on a computer. Sometimes the screen’s background colour was red, sometimes it was blue.
The experiments showed that with the red background, people did as much as 31 percent better at tasks like proofreading or solving anagrams, which require attention to detail. But for creative tasks, like designing a child’s toy, a blue background improved performance.
“Thanks to stop signs, emergency vehicles and teachers’ red pens, we associate red with danger, mistakes and caution,” explains Juliet Zhu, who conducted the research with UBC PhD candidate Ravi Mehta. “The avoidance motivation, or heightened state, that red activates makes us vigilant and thus helps us perform tasks where careful attention is required to produce a right or wrong answer.”
Conversely, blue encourages us to think outside the box and be creative. “Through associations with the sky, the ocean and water, most people associate blue with openness, peace and tranquillity,” says Zhu. “The benign cues make people feel safe about being creative and exploratory.”