Colour and the Brain (part 1 of 3) – Red

Posted by on Mar 12, 2017 in Blog Post, Neuromarketing

Look at the following colours and rate them from 1-10, where 1 means greatly dislike and 10 means love.

Blue         Green         Yellow        Pink        Purple        Red

Which colours are your favourite? And which don’t you like?

If you did not rate all the colours equally, you now know for sure that colour matters.  Different colours activate different parts of the human brain, and create different emotional experiences.  Knowing what colours are associated with certain emotions, and utilizing them, can give your website and marketing campaign a strategic advantage.

One example demonstrating the effect of colour is a study done by Elliot et al [see Colour and psychological….] published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology in 2007.  It showed that the colour red impaired the performance of students on tests.  The first study looked at 71 college students in the US.  They were first given a practice test based on word problems, and then given a real test with a participant number written on each page in either red, green, or black ink.  The experimenter asked students to check that the number was on each page.  What this study found was that students who had a participant number written in red ink did 20% worse on average than those with a number in green or black ink (who had nearly the same average result).

The researchers then did another study in Germany where they did a similar test, but instead of using a participant number, they used a black word in a box that was either red, green or non-existent.  Once again they found that those who had a red box did approximately 20% worse than those with a green or non-existent box.  They then repeated this experiment twice in high school classes and got the same results.

The researchers did not stop there however.  They went on to further test their theory.  In an experiment where high school students were given an IQ test with choices between easy and difficult questions, those who saw a red background on one page rather than a green or grey background ended up choosing significantly more easy questions (meaning they took less risks).  Next they took the same backgrounds and gave an on-screen test to 30 college students while measuring brain activity.  Those who saw the grey or green background shared similar levels of activity.  But those who saw the red background had significantly greater asymmetrical activity in the right frontal cortex (which other studies suggest is associated with avoidance).

This study clearly shows that the colour red has a unique effect on our brains, and our decision-making.  The effect may be due to our association between red and danger (both historically and in the modern world).  For example, stop lights are red in many countries, blood is red, many poisonous animals and fruits are bright red, etc.  However, the study did not necessarily account for culture, the environment, and many other factors.

So what can you learn from this? Most importantly, if you are trying to convince someone to make a risky decision such as investing in your business over a competitor’s, avoid using red.  Further, if you are trying to provide information that you hope will be remembered, try to avoid having red on the page. On the other hand, if you want to signal danger, red may be a good colour to use.

Does this mean red is bad? Not at all. Red can also be associated with power,

Andrew Elliot also found that red makes men more attractive towards women, and that even primates associate red with dominance. You can watch a video of him speaking about the colour red here:!

What this means is that if you want to make your business look like it’s dominant in its industry, you may want to have small spots of red on the home page or around the banner/logo. In other words, knowing the effects that red has on human behaviour allows you to balance your web pages out so that red is strategically used in some situations and avoided in others.

Sources Cited / Further Research

Colour and psychological functioning: The effect of red on performance attainment. – Andrew J Elliot, Markus A Maier, Arlen C Moller, Ron Friedman, Jörg Meinhardt –

Copyright A Light in the Rain Ltd. 2017