How We Think in Color

What color most improves brain performance and receptivity to advertising, red or blue? Both can, it just depends on the nature of the task or message. According to a new study undertaken at the University of British Columbia, red is the most effective at enhancing our attention to detail, while blue is best at boosting our ability to think creatively.

Between 2007 and 2008, the researchers tracked more than 600 participants’ performance on six cognitive tasks that required either detail-orientation or creativity. Most experiments were conducted on computers, with a screen that was red, blue or white.

Red boosted performance on detail-oriented tasks such as memory retrieval and proofreading by as much as 31 per cent compared to blue. Conversely, for creative tasks such as brainstorming, the color blue prompted participants to generate twice as many creative outputs as when under the red color condition.

Color influences cognition and behavior through learned associations. Blue encourages us to think outside the box and be creative. We associate it with the sky, the ocean and water, most people associate blue with openness, peace and tranquility. Red is associated with danger, stop signs, and warnings. It causes people to be alert.

The findings carry over to consumer packaging and marketing messages. It found that when the background colour was red, people formed more favorable opinions of products when its ad featured specific product details as opposed to evocative, creative messaging.

Similarly, people were more receptive to a new, fictional brand of toothpaste that focused on negative messages such as “cavity prevention” when the background color was red. But people were more receptive to aspirational messages such as “tooth whitening” when the background was rendered in blue.