I was recently reading an article about the psychology of architecture on one of my favorite neuroscience blogs, The Frontal Cortex. I was particularly drawn to his mention of a study conducted in 2009 by Ravi Mehta and Rui Zhu that compared people’s performance on different types of tasks whether they were in a room that was painted red, blue, or neutral. The researchers undertook the study because there had previously been conflicting research about how color affects cognitive tasks, with some studies finding better results with one color or the other. The Mehta and Zhu study uncovered the reason for these previous conflicts: people do better at different types of tasks in differently colored environments.
Specifically, they found that subjects in a bright red room do better on a detail-oriented task, while those in blue room excel at a creative task. Mehta and Zhu posit that this effect occurs because red puts people in a higher state of alertness and awareness, since red is associated with danger. On the other hand, blue is associated with things that may mentally relax us–like the sky and the ocean–so we have an easier time opening up creative channels and imagining things.
This effect was not small; those in the blue room had double the creative output of those in the red room, showing that color may have a stronger effect than we would imagine. I think this is pretty interesting because I just painted my living room dark blue (pretty close to this color.) I wonder if it will unleash my creative potential? Or if we should paint the Posit Science conference rooms in different colors depending on what types of tasks we are taking on?