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Will the Color Red Hurt Your Test Results?

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Will the Color Red Hurt Your Test Results?
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  • No one likes to see a graded test covered in red ink, but some new research suggests that seeing the color red before taking an exam can actually hurt test performance. While the color red is often described as threatening, arousing or exciting, many previous studies on the impact of the color red have been largely inconclusive.

    Cognitive Daily offers an in-depth look at this new study, which indicates that even brief exposure to the color red can hurt performance on several different types of tests. In this study, the researchers hypothesized that exposure to the color red would "impair performance on achievement tasks, because red is associated with the danger of failure in achievement contexts and evokes avoidance motivation."

    In the first of the six experiments described in the study, 71 U.S. colleges students were presented with a participant number colored either red, green or black prior to taking a five-minute test. The results revealed that students who were presented with the red number before taking the test scored more than 20 percent lower than those presented with the green and black numbers.

    While the researchers suggest that caution should be taken when using red in tests, Cognitive Daily also points out some possible limitations to this study:

    "First, all their tests were very short, time-constrained tests. Students were never expected to finish the test, only to complete as many items as possible. This is an unusual testing situation to say the least. While the SAT test, for example, is time-constrained, many students do complete the entire test. This test is much longer than the 5-minute test given in Elliot's team's study. Perhaps after a few minutes the impact of the color isn't as pronounced. This study doesn't tell us.

    Further, it doesn't tell us whether the red-avoidance behavior is the result of experiences in the classroom or the larger environment -- or, for that matter, whether it is biologically part of human nature. The researchers suspect it's a combination of all of these factors."
    Poll: Will you avoid the color red before your next exam? Photo courtesy Sanja Gjenero

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