Color and Psychological Functioning: The Effect of Red Essay

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The research is conducted to study whether or not the color influence arousal. Color is everywhere. Everyone encounters different colors everyday. Our perceptual experiences are greatly affected by the different colors surrounding us. Past studies have reported that color do affect our physics, physiology and psychology but there is a scarcity of literature regarding color perception and its effects on our psychological functioning (Fehrman & Fehrman, 2004; Whitfield & Wiltshire, 1990). Only few studies have been done earlier to support this hypothesis that red color has negative affect on performance. Elliote et al. (2007) hypothesized that red color impair performance because it evokes avoidance motivation.

Different studies have focused on effect of color on performance achievement and the positive role of color in achieving high performance. Some studies have reported the influence of red color on psychological performance. Researchers have been trying to find out those colors that would achieve high performance and improve learning capability among students.

According to Goldstein (1942) our body interacts with different colors and reacts, which is manifested in our psychological functioning. He proposed the idea that few colors are disagreeable for human perception and hence when we perceive them their outcomes negate our performance. Similarly, some colors are agreeable and have positive impact on our performance. Those with longer wavelength are arousing (red) and have negative impact on our performance while those with shorter wavelength (neutral) are cooling and calming and have positive impact on our performance.

Audio and visual stimuli increases blood flow in cerebral cortex has been used as an affordable technique for different kind of diseases (Othmer, 2004). Whatever the stimulant be, arousal is a factor that attracts and alerts the brain. Arousal from music can have varying impact. Music that is fast arouses brain function while classical music may have just the opposite affect. Rock music is arousal while classic music is calming. Studies have reported that audio-visual entertainment can be used as stimulant for brain to work actively (Othmer, 2004).

Arousal is an important part of our brain functioning. Brains cortical arousal is said to be directly correlated with the improved performance and determine how well brain can perform. In too much excitement brain releases alpha or theta and hence to pay attention on any job is not possible. One study has shown that rock music can reduce hyperactivity (Cripe, 1986).

Purpose of the study is to determine whether high visual or audio arousal affects persons capability of answering questions of SAT passage. The rationale is to find out the affect of visual and audio arousal on psychological functioning of mind during the process of deep thinking and understanding.


Red color has high visual arousal and can impair persons thinking process and delay their responses to answer questions of SAT passage.



Fourteen (6 male and 8 female) UCLA undergraduates participated in the experiment as a requirement to complete the class. Participants was restricted to any individual who were native English speakers, did not have a language related disability, and were not red colorblind. The mean age of participants was 23 years old with a range of 20-25 years.


The stimuli used in this experiment were four package of Standardized Test (SAT) question, two stop watch, two copies of instruction, two speaker and two separated rooms. Each package has 8 SAT fill in the blank questions with same level of difficulty. We are having 16 different packages with different reading passage but the same level of difficulty. The questions were taken from the SAT preparation by Barrons Verbal Section. We divided participants randomly into four different groups. Each group consist 4 participants and each participant will experience the same set of question but in different order. This will prevent the order effect. There are four different sets of order used in this experiment. There are

Punk music red color,

Classical music red color,

Punk music neutral color,

Classical music neutral color

Eight of them are with the classical music and eight of them are with rock music. For visual arousals we also test with the red and neutral color. Eight of them are with red color and eight of them with neutral color.

After sometime each group will be exposed to one condition one by one.  Group 1 will be exposed to Audio (rock), Group 2 to Audio (classic), Group 3 to red color and Group 4 to white color. The group that were exposed to rock music while the remaining two groups were exposed to red color and then asked to answer another list of questions from the SAT passage.


This experiment is 2X2 within-subject experiment. Participants were assigned to all of the four with within-subject experimental conditions: the Punk-Red, Punk-White, Classical-Red and Classical-White. Anagram performance served as the dependent measure. The general ability is the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) score. Balanced latin square is used in order to avoid specific items effect and order effect. Therefore, in each group they will not be exposed to the same things.

        Participants tested individually by an experimenter for blindness. Participants were randomly assigned to the experimenters in this and all subsequent experiments were aware that color played a role in the experiment, but they remained unaware of the color hypotheses throughout the data collection process.

Participants are divided into four groups with 4 individuals per group. Each participant will be offered to do questions under normal environmental condition.  Balanced Latin square setup will be used to determine which set of experiments will be used for each group participants. Two groups were to be selected for color arousal and two for music arousal. All the participants in the 4 groups were offered to solve questions from SAT passage while time for each participant was noted. After sometime two groups were exposed to rock music while the remaining two groups were exposed to red color and then asked to answer another list of questions from the SAT passage.

Subjects of Audio arousal (Rock vs. Classical music)

Good hearing capability

No reading and writing disability

All were native English speakers

Subjects of Visual Arousal (Red and White color)

None were color blind

No reading or writing disability

All were native English speakers








This experiment was conducted 2X2 within subjects design experiment so each participant experienced both level of variation with the experiment. This experiment deals with two-way design with two level of variable. There are two variable in this experiment; independent variable and dependent variable. The first independent variable (IV) has two levels. We will be judging audio arousal at two level : high and low. We operationally define this as classical music versus rock music. Our second independent variable is visual stimulation.

We define visual stimulation as a color that evokes urgency versus one that is neutral (i.e. red vs. white). The control of this experiment is the difficulty of the question, length of the syllable, time, font size of the words, sample, response type, and presentation style, question order and the presentation style. We also control it by making the balance latin square. The balance latin square is used therefore we can conclude that this test is within subject test two way but two levels and the variable manipulated is the level of arousal.


A factorial design (color condition: red vs. white) and (audio condition: punk vs. classical) within subject ANOVA was conducted on analogy performance. The result were as follow: Punk White: M 5.21, SD = 1.477; Punk Red : M = 5.00, SD = 1.177; Classical White : M = 5.14, SD = 1.748 ; Classical Red : M = 4.64, SD = 1.64. The analysis revealed an effect of premanipulation analogy performance on analogy performance, F (1,13)  = 0.511 The result indicate there are no main effect and no interaction.

Our studies show that rock music and red color is arousal and does distract persons attention to perform particular work. However, the impact of red color is not as extensive as rock music. There was statistically significant difference between the results produced under control condition and rock music arousal. The answers produced during rock music arousal were not correct or either left blank because of arousal and distraction created by the music.

Participants with white background color white threat performed significantly better compared to red color.

Participants with punk music performed better compared to classical.

PW > CW   and PR > CR

PW > PR    and CW > CR

Small discrepancies in the results and experiment might have affected our results. Our predictions were made solely on the basis of previous studies. However, current results due to several reasons. Those who were exposed to classical music deviated and their attention was grasped in listening music, hence they performed poorly on the test. Due to the reason that they were not able to concentrate on reading the passage as music was on. However, punk music didnt grasp their attention as classical music, hence, their performance was better while they were hearing punk music.

In order to make it better we believe next time we should have be a better research protocols. We need to have a better stimulation and prediction of another variable such as the confounding variable, internal validity and the other. It might be because of the confusion created while answering questions or because questions were not well ordered. Some had similar pattern and some have different pattern. Some of the questions have one fill in the blank and some have two fill in the blanks. One variable like color of the paper itself is a variable and can affect performance and create confusion.

We also have a problem with the internal validity with the visual stimulation. There are two level of problem in this case. The first one is the sound of the music. We didnt have a standard for the sound, about the loudness (how loud we want). For e.g. when we played punk music, we played it too loud but when we played classical music, it was not as loud as the punk therefore we believe some variations in the result were due to lack of internal validity. One more thing that can affect our experiment results is that punk music has lyrics and the classical didnt have any lyrics at all. Some of the participants when they came out from the punk-music room with lyrics and enter the classical-music room with no lyrics, the participants psychologically will be wondering about the lyrics.

Some of the participants can study or concentrate with lyrics and some of them cannot. Mostly with lyrics music on it is harder to answer the questions because our brain function is divided into two. It is hard to focus for two things. Results with the red color show worst performance, hence, when punk-music and red color both were used, the performance was worst of all other group sets. The reason for this is evident that it is harder to concentrate with such variables that deviate concentration and we tend to focus more on the music than on the questions itself.

The frequency also gives a high effect on this. There are low frequency and high frequency of sound in music.

Color, have a wavelength. Red, have a high wavelength. For example: Red has higher wave length then blue. If we add up a variety of different color wavelength we are going to have white. The tone that we get is analog to the white.

Color Red is said to be arousal itself. Red color taken was similar to that of blood or heart. Its a classic in nature. Red is used as a sign of danger, in normal day-to-day life red means to stop or its dangerous to continue after that. Color red is considered as sign of bad.

A graph shows arousal in inverted U shape. It means that initially the level is low then it gains peak and goes high and then back to low again. Other errors occurred were that data was not collected accurately and the sample was small not big.

Do you want this below paragraph must be incorporated in the discussion?


Fehrman, K. R., & Fehrman, C. (2004). Color: The secret influence (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Goldstein, K. (1942). Some experimental observations concerning the influence of colors on the function of the organism. Occupational Therapy and Rehabilitation, 21, 147151.

Othmer, Siegfried (2004) Applying Audio-Visual Entrainment Technology for Attention and Learning (Part3). Retrieved from

Whitfield, T. W., & Wiltshire, T. J. (1990). Color psychology: A critical review. Genetic, Social and General Psychology Monographs, 116,387412.

Elliot, Andrew J., Maier, Markus A., Moller, Arlen C. and Friedman, Ron., Meinhardt, Jo¨rg (2007). Color and Psychological Functioning: The Effect of Red on

Performance Attainment. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 2007, Vol. 136, No. 1, 154168

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