Scientists measured stronger, faster reactions in test subjects seeing red, who could not feel the slight differences. But getting a crimson completive edge might be more tricky, for the sight of red also could heighten fright, the researchers cautioned.
Co-authors Andrew Elliot, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, and Henk Aarts, professor of psychology at Utrecht University, used two experiments to measure the reactions to the color red of 30 students in the fourth through tenth grades and 46 undergraduate students, ScienceDaily reported.
According to the ScienceDaily article about their findings, published in the journal Emotion:
In the first experiment, the subjects squeezed, then let open, a metal clasp immediately after reading their test subject numbers aloud, which were marked with either a gray or a red crayon.
In the second experiment, the subjects compressed a grip as hard as they could with their dominant hands when they saw the word "squeeze" flash onto a computer screen, surrounded by a blue, gray or red background.
Because color studies can be confounded by differences in a color's hue, intensity or brightness, the colors shown in these tests were equalized for those qualities. Also, since "flight or fight" reactions differ widely among individuals, these experiments were designed to measure only stationary, non-directional, responses.
The researchers found red increased the force of the reactions in both tests, and in the second, also the immediacy of the reactions.
The authors stressed these boosts in energy and immediacy in response to red are brief, and attributed the changes to acute, visceral reactions to red as a danger or threat cue, similar to facial flushing in "flight or fight" scenarios. They emphasized that exposure to red proved counterproductive for skilled motor or mental work in earlier research, because, along with the extra, momentary rise in force and speed, other automatic danger responses also kicked in, such as distraction, worry and self-preoccupation.
Scientists have long been interested in emotional and physical responses to color, because possible applications of the findings could range through many, widespread fields: sports, advertising, education, product development, defense, space travel, and more.
ScienceDaily has reported intriguing results of previous studies of psychological and physiological responses to color:
Depressed people in one study were more likely to feel gray than blue.
But other research showed creativity was boosted by blue, while red elevated attention to details.
University of Washington professor Eric H. Chudler created a simple online test station, not directly related to any of the research projects reported about here, that anyone can use to measure reaction speed (but not intensity) while responding to various colors.