When green is positive and red is negative: Aging and the influence of color on emotional memories

Psychol Aging. 2016 Dec;31(8):914-926. doi: 10.1037/pag0000122. Epub 2016 Sep 15.


Numerous studies have reported age-related differences in memory for emotional information. One explanation places emphasis on an emotion processing preference in older adults that reflects their socioemotional self-relevant goals. Here, we evaluate the degree to which this preference in memory may be modulated by color. In 2 experiments, younger and older adults were asked to study a series of affective words (Experiment 1) or affective pictures (Experiment 2) and then presented with an immediate yes/no memory recognition task. In particular, words and pictures were colored according to the following valence-color associations: positive-green, negative-red, and neutral-blue. Each study condition included both congruent (e.g., positive-green) and incongruent associations (e.g., positive-red). For both experiments, participants showed an advantage for congruent associations compared with other types of valence-color pairings that emphasized a robust joint effect of color and affective valence in memory. More specifically, older adults' memory was sensitive to positive-green stimuli only. We discussed results in line with mechanisms underlying positivity effects in memory and the effect of color on emotional memory encoding. (PsycINFO Database Record

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Color*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Young Adult