Which Colors does your brain prefer?

Does your brain do certain tasks better against some color backgrounds, and other things better against other color backgrounds?  This is true for many people. You’re about to find out if it’s true for you.

A new study published in Science magazine revealed that while the color red can help you be more accurate in your work, the color blue spurs creativity.

University of British Columbia researchers conducted tests with 600 people to see how cognitive performance varies when people see red or blue. Participants performed tasks in which words or images were displayed against red, blue or neutral backgrounds on computer screens.

The research revealed that while the “red” groups fared better on tests of recall and attention to detail, the “blue” groups performed better on tests requiring imagination and creativity.

Juliet Zhu, an assistant professor of marketing at the university’s business school who conducted the study with doctoral student Ravi Mehta, suggested that the color blue would help when brainstorming on new products or solutions to problems. On the other hand, tasks needing a keen focus such as proofreading would be better performed in a red room.

When asked what each color made them think of, Zhu’s research subjects, in general, indicated that red represented danger, caution and mistakes while blue characterized peace and freedom. These results were confirmed by a task in which research participants were asked to unscramble an anagram. Subjects unscrambled anagrams relating to danger-related words more quickly when they were on red backgrounds, and those relating to positive words like “adventure” when on blue backgrounds.

The research study also revealed insights about subjects’ responses to advertising. Zhu discovered that ads focusing on product details or “avoidance” qualities, like cavity prevention, were better experienced on red backgrounds, while those using creative designs or stressing optimistic qualities like “tooth whitening” were more attractive in blue.

In addition, Zhu revealed that more subjects indicated they would perform better with blue for both detail-oriented and creative tasks. She acknowledged that is probably due to the fact that more people prefer the color blue to red.

OK, here we go with the first test.  You may have thought we would start with red or blue because that’s what the study authors did. But we’re starting with green because that way your brain has no pre-existing biases to throw off the results.   We’ll start with the detailed question.  It’s not as important to get the right answer as to observe what your brain does and how it feels as you solve the problem.    Add 67 to 232.  Then subtract 4 from that, and then add21.  Multiply the total by 2, and then subtract 5.  OK, now it’s time for the abstract question.  Once again, although you should try earnestly to solve it, it’s not so important what your answer is as how you feel while answering it. If you were suddenly named Dictator of the whole planet, what would you do to bring about peace, prosperity, and happiness?      After you reply, we’ll go on to the next challenge.

All right, here we go with the blue background.  See if your brain responds differently when performing a task requiring detailed thinking, as opposed to one needing imagination and creativity.    Here is your first question. One train leaves station A, which is 25 miles east of station B, going 20 miles an hour.   Another train leaves station B, heading towards station A, at 17 miles an hour. In how many minutes will the two trains collide?          All right, with no further ado here comes the more right-brained question.  You have just been named Dictator of the entire Universe.  Because you are an evil sort of person, you want to get everybody to destroy the world as quickly as possible.  What methods would you employ to destroy the environment?  the atmosphere?  All plant life?  Animals?  And last, and apparently least, people?   Once again, it’s not so important that you get the right answer (we sure hope you don’t!) as that you observe how comfortable you are dealing with the challenge against this blue background.    When you are finished scroll down to the next box.

Welcome to the  Red box!   Let’s see how your brain likes approaching problems against this background.   Here comes the question requiring detail work.   You are a bus driver. You start at stop ‘A’ and pick up four passengers.  Then you proceed to stop ‘B’ and one person gets off, while three get on.   Then you go to stop ‘C’  where 23 people get on the bus, and three get off.   Then you have a flat tire.  Two people get off the bus to help you change the tire, and one good Samaritan on the sidewalk helps also.    Now the question is, what is your name? Go back and read it again and you’ll find the answer.         Now for the abstract question.    If it were actually proven that colors affect our thinking the way the study authors at the University of British Columbia suggest, how would you change our educational system to most efficiently take advantage of this?      And by the way, the answer to the first question in this red block is, of course, YOUR name, since the problem began by saying ‘You are a bus driver’.

OK, what about yellow?   Let’s see how your brain acts while doing tasks described against this background.   By the way, you may be wondering about the fact that we have to make these text color blocks a certain length, and therefore tend to ramble when we describe the experiment.  The reason is that we want the color block to fill as much of the present screen space as possible.   This is difficult because people are reading this using different devices.   Some are using desktop computers with 17 inch monitors, some are using Netbooks, some are using iphones, some are using Palm Pres, and some are  using Blackberries.  Each screen has different formatting. Anyway, the logical question this time is what do you get if you divide your age by 7?  by  4?  by 9?  by 6?   The more creative problem is, if you had to re-paint every room in your home today, which colors would you use?

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