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A View from David Ewing Duncan

Seeing Red Messes with IQ

Avoid the color red when you want to be the best you can be.

  • March 19, 2007

Want to do your best? Then avoid the color red when taking exams, such as the IQ test. Psychologists at the University of Rochester studied the impact of showing subjects a brief “perception” of the color red before they took a test. The appearance of this color–associated with danger, blood, stop signs, and error marks on school papers–apparently causes faster heartbeat and breathing, and causes performance to plummet.

“The findings suggest that care must be taken in how red is used in achievement contexts and illustrate how color can act as a subtle environmental cue that has important influences on behavior,” reports the study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

This is, of course, shocking news: a study that tells us something that we could probably surmise on our own. The same goes for the fact that the antidote to red–the color green–soothes us and makes us calm and want to “go.”

Next thing you know, a study will tell us that blue makes us feel serene, and black signals mystery and the unknown.

Study: Elliot, A.J.; Maier, M.A.; Moller, A.C.; Friedman, R. & Meinhardt, J. (2007) The Effect of Red on Performance Attainment. Journal of Experimental Psychology, Vol 136(1): 154-168.

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