Looking for the right hue to paint your weight room? Try red--it may well enhance your performance. A new study by psychologists says that seeing the color red leads humans to react more quickly and more forcefully. Perhaps predictably, the subconscious reaction is motivated by subconscious cues meant to better prepare us for danger, and the boost is short-lived. Just like steroids, however, there's a downside to the enhanced performance. Because our reaction to red is based on sensing a threat, it can also lead to "worry, task distraction, and self-preoccupation, all of which have been shown to tax mental resources." In fact, the reaction may be linked to blushing:
"Red enhances our physical reactions because it is seen as a danger cue," explains coauthor Andrew Elliot, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester and a lead researcher in the field of color psychology. "Humans flush when they are angry or preparing for attack," he explains. "People are acutely aware of such reddening in others and it's implications."
Conducted by Elliot and co-author Henk Aarts, the process behind the study was designed to appeal to subjects' physical, unconscious fight-or-flight instincts. In two separate experiments, Elliot and Aarts measured the reaction time and intensity of students when cued by a colored word. Thirty students from fourth- through tenth-grade were asked to pinch and hold open a metal clasp after reading aloud a number on a card in the first, and in the second, college students squeezed a handgrip as hard as they could after reading the word "squeeze" on a monitor. Subjects responded faster and with more force when the cue was colored red than they did when it was a comparable hue and brightness of blue or gray.
This is hardly the first study showing the color red's aggressive impressions, but the obvious application of these new findings would be in the sports arena. Apparently, "athletes competing against an opponent wearing red are more likely to lose," just as--attention, all you fans of bright school walls--"students exposed to red before a test perform worse."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.