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Study Finds Color Boosts Brain Performance

According to a new study, the brain performance of people is unconsciously enhanced by different colors depending upon the nature of the task.

In their study, University of British Columbia researchers set out to resolve a long running debate among advertisers about which color, red or blue, stimulates the brain more.

Marketing professor Juliet Zhu says both colors stimulate the brain, but it depends upon the nature of the activity. "If the task is calling for attention to details, then red color will help in particular. But if the task is more creative in nature, then [a] blue color will help," she said.

Zhu and colleagues followed 600 participants between 2007 and 2008, tracking their performance on six cognitive tests on a computer that required either detail orientation or creativity.

While exposed to tasks on a red screen, Zhu says the volunteers in one group were asked to memorize a list of words and then recall them twenty minutes later. "What we found was that those in the red color background condition were able to make more accurate recalls than those in the blue background conditions," he said.

Zhu says the color red enhanced the detail-oriented skills of the volunteers by 31 percent.

She says people using blue computer screens to perform creative works scored two times higher on a scale measuring creativity than people who performed the activities on red screens.

Zhu gives the example of a red brick. "They said, you know, it could be used as a scratch post for animals; something much more creative than to build a house."

Zhu says advertisers could take advantage of the unconscious messages that colors send to consumers by labeling a product in blue to promote serenity or red to grab someone's attention.

The study on color and brain performance is published this week in the journal Science.