A study at the University of Rochester says the findings may have applications for sporting and other activities in which a brief burst of strength and speed is needed, such as weightlifting, although the authors caution that the color energy boost is likely short-lived, a university release said Thursday.
"Red enhances our physical reactions because it is seen as a danger cue," said Andrew Elliot, a Rochester researcher in color psychology.
"Humans flush when they are angry or preparing for attack," he said. "People are acutely aware of such reddening in others and its implications."
However, along with mobilizing extra energy, "threat also evokes worry, task distraction, and self-preoccupation, all of which have been shown to tax mental resources," Elliot said.
"Color affects us in many ways depending on the context," he said. "Those color effects fly under our awareness radar."
In one study experiment, 30 fourth-through-10th graders pinched and held open a metal clasp. Just before doing so, they read aloud their participant number written in either red or gray crayon.
In a second experiment, 46 undergraduates squeezed a handgrip as hard as possible when they read the word "squeeze" on a computer monitor, with the word appearing either on a red, blue, or gray background.
In both experiments, red was associated with significant increases in the force exerted, researchers said.
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