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Human beings have been using colors as metaphors for their frame of mind throughout history. A person who is furious is often depicted as “seeing red” in the same way that some believe bulls do before they charge. While these metaphors regarding color are prevalent throughout the world, the fact of the matter is that they often have a basis in psychology. The purpose of this study is to examine the various effects that colors, especially red, have upon the human population as proven through psychological research. [Click Essay Writer to order your essay]

One area of human psychology that has been proven to be affected by the prevalence of the color red is related to the initial metaphor of anger as being red. According to Fetterman, Robinson, & Meier (2012) human beings can have their mood primed and be more respondent to the color red. This occurred in two different experiments, the first of which primed the individuals to examine anger versus sadness, and the result was that the individuals who were primed for anger were able to perceive red (Fetterman, Robinson, & Meier, 2012, p. 311). The same results were found for the situation where people were primed for anger; their evocation of anger as an emotion led to higher red-color perception. Ultimately, those individuals who were angry were able to have a higher perception of the color red, showing that this color is linked to stressful, anger-inducing problems.[Need an essay writing service? Find help here.]

While linking red to anger and emotional states was significant, another psychological aspect that emerged was that red could have a significant impact on a person’s decision-making process due to the connotations attached to the color. One study titled “The effect of red on avoidance behavior in achievement contexts” builds upon the concept of red having a direct effect on a person’s emotions.

The first experiment that was undertaken as a larger part of the study developed the idea that people were more likely to avoid the color red as it pertained to achievement (Elliot et al., 2009). This came about as individuals were given the choice between red and other colors such as green and gray with regards to knocking on doors and taking exams from books with covers that correlated to the covers. A similar study was conducted with regards to the concept that red would induce avoidance motivation as it pertained to academic work and achievement. According to Tanaka & Tokuno (2011), the color red was also shown to have a positive effect on the avoidance behavior of individuals who were engaged in academic works. Thus, the studies that were performed for the effect of the color red on people clearly showed that there was an impact that the color had upon people and their choice to avoid things that were associated with intellectual pursuits and the color red.

The effect of the color red on intellectual pursuits was also examined in a variety of other studies which examined the effects of red on intellectual pursuits more directly. For example, Maier, Elliot, & Lichtenfeld (2008) examined the role of color priming in affecting those who were taking IQ tests. The first part of the study showed that the color red has the power of undermining IQ tests. The second and third aspects of the test proved the casual link between the color and IQ tests and also resulted in the first meditational process for color psychology (Maier, Elliot, & Licteneld, 2008). The results of this study were completely underscored by another follow-up study that occurred the following year. The study, titled “The semantic red effect: Processing the word red undermines intellectual performance”, sought to examine the connection between the word “red” being introduced and the effect on the intellectual performance. The initial hypothesis was that the color was not necessary to have a detrimental effect upon the individual’s intellectual pursuit. The results of the study ultimately showed that the word “red” being introduced to an individual before an intellectual pursuit had the same effect as viewing the color (Lichtenfield, Maier, & Elliot, 2009, p. 1273). This showed that there is an intensely negative connotation for the color red with regards to mental performance.

Although it is clear that the color red has many different impacts on the concepts of anger, avoidance, and intellectual pursuits, it is important to understand the physical responses that can occur as a result of the color. One study examined the effect that the perception of red, such as that found during episodes of anger, would have upon an individual’s motor skills. According to Elliot & Aarts (2011) the presence of the color red increases the threat response in human and nonhuman animals to the point where it has a significant impact on the motor function and strength of the motor response from individuals. The first study was able to show that the presence of red is able to increase the motor skill of the pinchgrip force while the second study ultimately showed that red increased the velocity of the force that is exerted when compared to other colors such as grey and blue (Elliot & Aarts, 2011, p. 445). This is significant because it shows the relationship between color and a psychological impact that translates to a physiological response in a human being. In essence, a person that viewed red could have more physical potency with their motor skills in some situations.

Several other studies were able to follow up on the concept that the color red would have an impact on the physical capabilities of those who are exposed to the color. For example, one study titled “Psychology:  Red enhances human performance in contests” examined how the color red could be used to enhance human physical performance. According to the study, the coloration of red is linked to sexual selection and aggressiveness, two elements that play into combat sports. Based upon the preliminary findings from the study, it was clear that the individuals who wear red in contests are simply more likely to be the victor of that contest (Hill& Barton, 2005).  This has several implications in terms of scientific outcomes. The first potential implication is that human responses to colors evolved along the lines of sexual selection, so red is a natural means of creating competition. The other implication is that red uniforms could hinder the ability of another team to demonstrate the aggressiveness necessary to win the match. This could be linked to the previously-mentioned avoidance theory.


Another study that examined the link that the color red had with regards to physical contests was titled “The influence of red on perceptions of relative dominance and threat in a competitive context”. This study also supported the concept that the team that wears red is more likely to win a competition, but also examined the reasons behind this occurring in more depth than Hill and Barton. The study found that wearing red made an individual feel higher levels of relative dominance when they were competing with others, increasing their perceived and real capabilities (Feltman & Elliot, 2011). In addition, the study found that seeing other teams in the color red had a disheartening effect upon the opposing team. However, the study ultimately concluded that the color red has a subtle but noticeable effect upon individuals who are participating in physical competitions.

This study has produced several different perspectives on the color red and the psychological impact that it has on people. From the diminished intellectual capabilities to the increased physical and motor skills, it is clear that red is a color that can have a potent impact on people. Overall, it is important to consider the fact that colors have important psychological impacts and that other questions can be raised regarding the outcomes that colors have on the human mind. [Click Essay Writer to order your essay]

Elliot, A. J., & Aarts, H. (2011). Perception of the color red enhances the force and velocity of     motor output. Emotion11(2), 445.

Elliot, A. J., Maier, M. A., Binser, M. J., Friedman, R., & Pekrun, R. (2009). The effect of red on             avoidance behavior in achievement contexts. Personality and Social Psychology   Bulletin35(3), 365-375.

Feltman, R., & Elliot, A. J. (2011). The influence of red on perceptions of relative dominance      and threat in a competitive context. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology33(2), 308-  314.

Fetterman, A. K., Robinson, M. D., & Meier, B. P. (2012). Anger as “seeing red”: Evidence for a             perceptual association. Cognition & emotion26(8), 1445-1458.

Hill RA, Barton RA. (2005) Psychology: red enhances human performance in contests.
Nature 435(293)

Lichtenfeld, S., Maier, M. A., Elliot, A. J., & Pekrun, R. (2009). The semantic red effect: Processing the word red undermines intellectual performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology45(6), 1273-1276.

Maier, M. A., Elliot, A. J., & Lichtenfeld, S. (2008). Mediation of the negative effect of red on    intellectual performance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Tanaka, A., & Tokuno, Y. (2011). The effect of the color red on avoidance motivation. Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal39(2), 287-289.

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By Hanna Robinson

Hanna has won numerous writing awards. She specializes in academic writing, copywriting, business plans and resumes. After graduating from the Comosun College's journalism program, she went on to work at community newspapers throughout Atlantic Canada, before embarking on her freelancing journey.

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