Blue or red? Exploring the effect of color on cognitive task performances

Science. 2009 Feb 27;323(5918):1226-9. doi: 10.1126/science.1169144. Epub 2009 Feb 5.


Existing research reports inconsistent findings with regard to the effect of color on cognitive task performances. Some research suggests that blue or green leads to better performances than red; other studies record the opposite. Current work reconciles this discrepancy. We demonstrate that red (versus blue) color induces primarily an avoidance (versus approach) motivation (study 1, n = 69) and that red enhances performance on a detail-oriented task, whereas blue enhances performance on a creative task (studies 2 and 3, n = 208 and 118). Further, we replicate these results in the domains of product design (study 4, n = 42) and persuasive message evaluation (study 5, n = 161) and show that these effects occur outside of individuals' consciousness (study 6, n = 68). We also provide process evidence suggesting that the activation of alternative motivations mediates the effect of color on cognitive task performances.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cognition*
  • Color*
  • Creativity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Processes*
  • Mental Recall
  • Motivation
  • Task Performance and Analysis*
  • Young Adult