Colorful Research Review

The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research, now in all-pdf form. Get a subscription now for only $25 a year!

Selected studies that are colorful in some sense.
Compiled by Dirk Manley, Improbable Research staff

Choose Red, Then Fail
“Color and Psychological Functioning: The Effect of Red on Performance Attainment,” Andrew J. Elliot, Markus A. Maier, Arlen C. Moller, Ron Friedman and Jorg Meinhardt, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, vol. 136, no. 1, 2007, pp. 154–68. The authors, who are variously at the University of Rochester and the University of Munich, report:

This research focuses on the relation between color and psychological functioning, specifically, that between red and performance attainment. Red is hypothesized to impair performance on achievement tasks, because red is associated with the danger of failure in achievement contexts and evokes avoidance motivation. Four experiments demonstrate that the brief perception of red prior to an important test (e.g., an IQ test) impairs performance, and this effect appears to take place outside of participants’ conscious awareness. Two further experiments establish the link between red and avoidance motivation as indicated by behavioral (i.e., task choice) and psychophysiological (i.e., cortical activation) measures. The findings suggest that care must be taken in how red is used in achievement contexts and illustrate how color can act as a subtle environmental cue that has important influences on behavior.

The 22-Minute Rust-Coloured Blouse
“Effect of Colour Coordination of Attire with Poster Presentation on Poster Popularity,” David A. Keegan and Susan L. Bannister, Canadian Medical Association Journal, vol. 169, no. 12, December 9, 2003, pp. 1291–2. The authors devised an unusual experimental protocol. Here is a partial description:

The study presenter began the presentation wearing the lavender-coloured blouse. Because of a delayed start to the poster session, we did not know how long the session would last or when the midpoint would occur. We therefore asked the presenter to change into the rust-coloured blouse after 22 minutes (when there were no visitors). After a subsequent 28 minutes she changed back into the lavender-coloured blouse (again when there were no visitors) for the remaining 17 minutes.

Technical detail from the 2003 Keegan/Bannister study.

They report:

Our results suggests that colour coordination between the poster and the presenter’s attire may substantially increase the popularity of the poster and the likelihood that the research will be disseminated.

Blue Eyes Glued on Blue-Eyes
“Why Do Blue-Eyed Men Prefer Women with the Same Eye Color?” Bruno Laeng, Ronny Mathisen and Jan-Are Johnsen, Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, vol. 61, 2007, pp. 371–84. The authors, at the University of Tromso, Norway, report:

Close-up photos of young women and adult men with either blue or brown eyes were rated for their attractiveness by young women and men observers with either blue or brown eyes (N=88). The eye color in the photographs of each model was manipulated so that a same face would be shown with either the natural eye color (e.g., blue) or with the other color (e.g., brown)....

[Our results] suggest the presence of a male adaptation for the detection of extra-pair paternity based on eye color, as a phenotypically based assurance of paternity (i.e., when the father’s and offspring’s phenotypes match) as well as a defense against cuckoldry (i.e., when the phenotypes do not match).

Technical detail from the 2007 Laeng et al. study.


This article is republished with permission from the July-August 2008 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

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