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Study: Seeing Red Lowers Test Scores

multiple choice test. (Image credit: stock.xchng)

Blame those low SAT scores on the person sitting next to you wearing red, because just a glimpse at the color negatively affects test performance, according to a new study.?? ?

While previous research showed that red outfits gave athletes an advantage in sports, the same may not be true when it comes to mental performance.

People associate each color with a specific mood. While blue may represent tranquility and peace for many, red evokes a feeling of danger.

"Color clearly has aesthetic value, but it can also carry specific meaning and convey specific information," said lead study author Andrew J. Elliot, a psychologist at the University of Rochester. "Our study of avoidance motivation is part and parcel of that."

In a series of four experiments, high school and college students were assigned tests that contained some element--such as a participant number located in the upper right hand corner of each test page--which possessed a color. These colors included green, red and gray.

In cases where the color red was used, performance was impaired.

According to the researchers, the findings show 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 study is detailed in the February issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

Sara Goudarzi
Sara Goudarzi is a Brooklyn writer and poet and covers all that piques her curiosity, from cosmology to climate change to the intersection of art and science. Sara holds an M.A. from New York University, Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, and an M.S. from Rutgers University. She teaches writing at NYU and is at work on a first novel in which literature is garnished with science.