Today: Jul 17, 2024

The color red provokes reactions and emotions in humans, according to study

Kendra Baker – Staff Writer

Red—the color of danger, blood, passion, and rage—has been suggested by some psychologists to keep people from performing their best on tests and school assignments.

“Psychologists—in a very general sense—characterize people as either having an approach mode or an avoidance mode, so when people grade in red they’re basically giving a warning,” said Dr. Patricia Kahlbaugh, associate psychology professor. “Red signals warning or danger, so there is an idea that red gives us avoidance versus an approach.”

According to “4 Surprising Facts About The Color Red,” an article on, “scientists say red, more than any other colors, provokes clearly identifiable reactions in human beings,” such as the intensifying physical reactions and causing failure on exams.

The article explained that a study published in the journal “Emotion” found that the sight of red causes people to react faster and more forcefully due to the fact that red is a, “culturally ingrained signal of danger,” and the human body reacts to the color as if there is a threat present. The article also said that in 2007, researchers reported that the sight of even a hint of red on an exam can negatively affect a test-takers’ performance—“perhaps because instructors often use red ink to mark errors [so] people associate the color ‘with mistakes and failures [and] in turn, do poorly on the exam.”

Dr. Margaret Generali, school counseling and psychology program coordinator, said that although she hasn’t heard much about possible effects of red ink on students’ performance, she “can imagine that it might have an effect on some students’ anxiety levels.”

“I work with kids and I know anxiety can affect achievement,” said Generali, who has worked at Southern for five years. “If a student is anxious in general, I can imagine that red ink may increase their anxiety, [which] may cause them to feel like they have a lot of work to do. Some students may see [red ink] as a challenge, while others may see it as too critical or as an attack on their person.”

Kathleen Powell, junior business administration major, said she had heard that red ink can affect people, but did not hear about any negative effects.

“I’ve heard that when teachers write in red ink, it makes their notations stand out more and that way students are more apt to learn from the mistakes that the teachers have corrected,” said Powell. “If a teacher uses black or blue ink, those colors don’t stand out in your memory as much as red ink does.”

Powell said although red ink does not have a negative impact on her school performance, she understands why red ink might negatively affect other students.

“Maybe some students feel like [teachers’ use of red ink] is too harsh,” said Powell. “The red might be a little too aggressive for students and they might feel like they’re being reprimanded instead of being taught the right way.”

In Falcon Reese’s 2010 Tufts Daily article, Abraham Rutchick, assistant professor of social psychology at California State University, Northridge said red ink and failure have been paired together so often that they have become associated. However, Rutchick said “there is nothing inherently special about the color red” and that any color could have replaced red and still have had the same effect.

Although studies and research have been conducted on red ink and adverse effects on students, there is no evidence to support hunches, like Rutchick’s, that that there is a connection between the two. | Photo Courtesy
Grades written in red can cause anxiety say psychologists.

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