29 Mar 2018

The Secret Power of Colour on Human Cognition

Colour psychology is a burgeoning and exciting area, with top researchers in the field providing rigorous overviews of work on colour categorisation, colour symbolism and association, colour preference, reciprocal relations between colour perception and psychological functioning, and variations and deficiencies in colour perception (Elliot, 2015). One of the upcoming research areas that utilise colour psychology is memory research. Memory plays a vital role in our daily activities, responsible in moulding and developing our individual personalities, therefore memory is one of the most essential cognitive functions in an individual’s life. Memory can be explained in the form of a model, part of a sequence of three stages, from sensory to short-term to long-term memory, and this model is known as the modal or multi-store or Atkinson-Shriffin model.  Of undeniable importance, short-term memory is an important element for cognitive tasks including reasoning, planning and problem-solving by storing and interpreting information.
The field of short-term memory research is replete with studies that present different pathways to enhance memory performance, recall and retention in order to improve knowledge accumulation, overcome learning disabilities or simply to better process in the learning process. The most notable study done on this area started with the fundamental study of George A. Miller on storage capacity limits, suggesting that the capacity limit on information processing is limited to about seven units (Miller, 1994). Throughout the years, studies on memory processing have expanded to explore the relationship between short-term memory and academic achievement, therefore generating compelling interest to explore factors that contribute to improving performance in memory processes.
It is believed that colour is the most important visual experience for human beings. The everyday world is brimming with colours. Any time we open our eyes, our visual senses are bombarded with continuous optical stimuli, with surrounding sights competing for attention. A study by Macpherson (2012) submitted that colour can cognitively alter the perception and experience that we encounter. Wichmann, Sharper and Gegenfurther (2002) used a recognition memory paradigm to assess the influence of colour information on visual memory for images of natural scenes, and reported that subjects performed 5% to 10% better for coloured than for black-and-white images independent of exposure duration. This is especially useful in the education settings to motivate students to learn and profit from their educational journey. Colour was also strongly related to visual attention. According to White (1997), coloured advertisement was able to attract consumers to read the advertisement up to 42% more often than non-coloured advertisement. Additionally, warm colours, such as red and yellow, increase arousal more than cool colours, such as green and blue. Further evidence shows that occasional bold stroke of red or orange attracts the learner attention to details.
Cognitive Psychology is an area in Psychology that studies the areas of perception, attention, memory, imagery, language, problem solving, reasoning, and decision-making. The interactive sessions provide an opportunity to participate in cognitive experiments and to discuss the current experimental research literature.
The TMC Psychology programme offers remarkable modules that includes Developmental Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, and others that offer exclusive insight of the fundamentals of Psychology, as well as exposes students to inspiring research updates in the various areas of psychology.
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Written by:
Dr. Austin Ang
Senior Lecturer, School of Psychology

Elliot, A. J., Fairchild, M. D. & Franklin, A. (2015). Handbook of Color Psychology, Cambridge University Press.
Macpherson, F. (2012). Cognitive penetration of colour experience: rethinking the issue in light of an indirect mechanism. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 84(1), 25-62.
Miller, G. A. (1994). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review, 101(2), 343-352.
White, J. V. (1997). Color for impact. Ohio, United States: Strathmoor Press.
Wichmann, F. A, Sharpe, L.T. & Gegenfurtner, K.R. (2002). The contributions of color to recognition memory for natural scenes. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 28(3), 509–520.