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Surprise! It's RFF at HvH Interiors and we are discussing the colour red today.
Here's the article being discussed, if you'd like to have a read for yourself:
Elliot, A., Maier, M., Moller, A., Friedman, R., & Meinhardt, J. (2007). "Color and Psychological Functioning: The Effect of Red on Performance Attainment." Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 136(1): 154-168.
So, the researchers were interested in determining what kind of effect the colour red has on psychological functioning. More specifically, the relationship between red and performance attainment. They hypothesized that red should have a negative impact on performance attainment and that this effect is unconscious.
What is performance attainment? According to this study, it refers to performance in achievement contexts, where performance will be evaluated. A test or presentation environment comes to mind.
Why would red affect it negatively? According to the researchers, we develop learned associations to specific colours (this can be understood from an evolutionary perspective also) and with inevitable repetition, these associations become almost automatic and unconscious. The authors posit that in a context where performance or competence is being evaluated (and where the results can be positive or negative), red would be associated with danger - danger of failure. Most of us could agree that we have learned that red markings on a test usually signify an error or correction. Or that fire alarm and extinguishers (usually red) or stop lights are warning us of potential danger. I'm even thinking now from an evolutionary point of view - blood is red. If we are bleeding, we are being informed that there is a problem, that we are hurt and that we may lose the battle. So I agree with the hypothesis that in a context where performance is an issue, red may bring to mind some warning of danger and that may affect performance in a negative way.
So what did they do? Actually, they devised 6 experiments to test their hypotheses. "In sum, the present research is designed to examine a set of hypotheses regarding the influence of the color red on performance. Our foremost interest was in testing the hypothesis that red undermines performance on achievement tasks (Experiments 1–4); most of these experiments used an IQ test as the focal achievement task. We also sought to examine the degree to which individuals were conscious of the processes involved in the proposed inimical influence of red (Experiments 2–4). We anticipated that individuals’ self-reported avoidance motivation, as well as their self-reported appraisals, perceptions, and moods, would be unrelated to the perception of red and, furthermore, that individuals would not be aware that perceiving red undermined their performance. Finally, we sought to move beyond self-report measures to examine the link between red and avoidance motivation with measures that do not require conscious access to activated motivational processes (Experiments 5–6). We hypothesized that the perception of red would evoke motivation to avoid failure, as indicated by both behavioral and psychophysiological markers of avoidance motivation." Elliot et al, 2007.
What did the find? "The results of the present experiments provide strong support for our hypothesized effect of red on performance. Experiments 1–4 demonstrated that the perception of red prior to an achievement task impairs performance relative to the perception of green or an achromatic color. This effect was documented in two different countries (the United States and Germany), with two different age groups (high school and undergraduate), in two different experimental settings (laboratory and classroom), using two different types of color presentation (participant number and test cover), using four different variants of red and green hues, using all three achromatic colors (black, white, and gray), and using both language-based and number-based achievement tasks. Evidence from funnel debriefing data, self-report process data, and perceived competence data supports our premise that this undermining effect of red takes place outside of individuals’ conscious awareness. In our fifth and sixth experiments, we moved beyond self-report data to examine the link between red and avoidance motivation with behavioral and psychophysiological measures. These experiments demonstrated that the perception of red prior to an achievement task, relative to the perception of green or an achromatic color, indeed evokes avoidance motivation, as indicated by participants’ choice of easy relative to difficult tasks (Experiment 5) and greater right, relative to left, frontal cortical activation (Experiment 6)." Elliot et al, 2007.
So what does this study suggest when it comes to interiors? Not much really - I mean especially in a home environment because this experiment is context specific. But let's say were talking about the interior design of a class room, test room, office - or any room where performance is important (so, maybe we should include the bedroom, ha!), this research leads us to believe that red should be used with caution.
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Actually, red is my favourite colour. Not so much for interior spaces though (but lately I'm loving the grey/red combo). In this case I would choose to do red accents or pops of red here and there. But if I have to choose something, like a lollipop or a notebook, I will most likely choose red. So I'm a bit sad that red is getting a bad rap in this article, but anyhow, it is a very interesting and well designed experiment.
What's your favourite colour?
Have a great weekend!