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Piotrowski, Chris. (2012). Color Red:

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Piotrowski, Chris. (2012).

2012, 49(1-2)
Color Red: Implications for Applied Psychology
and Marketing Research
Chris Piotrowski and Terry Armstrong
University of West Florida
College of Business
Pensacola, FL 32514
Research shows that the color Red elicits predominantly negative reactions in
humans, i.e., avoidance motivation, threat, and danger. Most investigators use the
color Red as the stimulus (e.g., warning signs, red colored objects, blood). This
study presents a novel paradigm in that the term Red was rated as part of a
response format; respondents rated 14 bi-polar adjective scales on a semantic
differential instrument based on their perception of potentially adverse concepts
(one of the scales was Red-Green). Data were obtained from 2 studies on attitudes
toward the IRS and the federal TARP program (see Piotrowski & Guyette, 2009,
2011). Results from both studies show that respondents evaluated these
controversial issues as more ‘Red’. These findings suggest that the color Red is
associated with perceived onerous issues or events and has a negative connotation.
Implications for the field of consumer behavior, human factors, applied psychology,
and marketing research were noted. Future studies should extend the knowledge
base on the functional aspects of color.
Colors are a ubiquitous feature of the environment and human experience.
Research has indicated that colors elicit or promote an emotional response in
humans, both positive and negative (Griffith & Leonard, 1997). In recent years,
there has been keen research interest on how humans react to colors and how colors
impact us in everyday interactions. Thus, the study of colors has become an
emergent area of investigation across various fields, including social psychology,
perception, ergonomics, and environmental psychology. Moreover, research on
colors is a key subject of study in the business world, in such areas as consumer
behavior, advertising, and marketing (Weitz & Wensley, 2002).
The color Red has garnered the attention of researchers. Studies show that the
color Red is a universally primary color associated with strong emotions (Hale,
2007; Swihart et al., 1999), high arousal potential (Crane & Hicks, 1989), and
enhancement of strong visceral and motor response (Elliot & Aarts, 2011).
Therefore, it is not surprising that the color Red is found to be associated with threat
and danger (e.g., Gerendt & Sias, 2009; Wogalter et al., 1998). In the real world,
vehicle operators are primed to be vigilant to ‘Red’ traffic signs and warnings
(Griffith & Leonard, 1997). At the same time, the color Red can be associated with
positive sentiments, such as a Red heart on Valentine’s Day, red fashion attire, and
‘Red’ sports cars.
Color Red 56
The aim of this research was to determine if people associate the color Red to
negative events or issues. Since Osgood and colleagues (see Snider & Osgood,
1969) studied the connotative meaning of colors, we utilized their innovative
semantic differential technique to address the issue.
The study design used a novel approach in that it did not use Red as the prime
stimulus. Instead, respondents reacted to an a priori determined negative issue
(stimulus) utilizing a response format where the word ‘Red’ was rated on a 7-point
scale. To accomplish this, we used the semantic differential (SD) instrument (Snider
& Osgood, 1969) with 14 bi-polar adjective scales. One scale was Red-Green. This
provided the instrument with a semi-projective nature, since respondents were not
quite sure how the SD was scored or the intent of introducing colors to the rating
exercise. In fact, several studies have utilized the SD measure and procedure in the
study of color (Griffith & Leonard, 1997; Lee, 1999).
Data were obtained from 2 separate studies that reported on students’ attitudes
toward the IRS (Piotrowski & Guyette, 2009) and views on the TARP bailout
program (Piotrowski & Guyette, 2011). In both of these studies, the respondents
held rather negative attitudes on the 2 issues, based on scores on the Evaluation
dimension of the SD. Afterward, scores on the 7 point bi-polar scale (Red-Green)
were obtained and subjected to a one-sample t-test procedure. The neutral score was
the mid-point, i.e., a score of 4.
Results and Discussion
The IRS study sample (N=24) was found to have a mean of 3.0 on the Red-
Green scale. This indicated that these respondents viewed the IRS as significantly
more Red than Green (1 standard deviation from the mean). In study 2, respondents
(N=57) rated the TARP program as somewhat more Red than Green (M=3.4); this
value approached significance. Overall, these results provide tentative support to the
notion that concepts or issues that have a negative connotation will be either
perceived as more ‘Red’ or associated with the color Red. These findings also
support research that utilized the same SD technique and procedure (using colors as
bi-polar response options) in assessing views or attitudes on public policy
(Piotrowski & Guyette, 2010).
The findings of this study corroborate research that purport that the color Red
has a negative connotation for humans. Moreover, the current findings should
provide an impetus for additional research on how color affects behavior,
perceptions, attitudes, and sentiments (e.g., Smeesters & Liu, 2011). Such findings
have implications for marketing research, such as the issue of avoidance motivation
(Janaka & Tokuno, 2011) and personality factors (Singg & Whiddon, 2000). In
addition, research in this area should be welcomed by applied psychologists,
particularly in studies with a focus on the functional aspects of color (Elliot &
Aarts, 2011; James & James, 1989).
Crane, L., & Hicks, R.A. (1989). Preference for color red and activation: A test of Thayer’s
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Elliot, A. J., & Aarts, H. (2011). Perception of the color red enhances the force and velocity
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Gerend, M., & Sias, T. (2009). Message framing and color priming: How subtle threat cues
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Griffith, L.J., & Leonard, D. (1997). Association of colors with warning signal words.
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James, L.A., & James, L. R. (1989). Integrating work environment perceptions: Explorations
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related business issues? Organization Development Journal, 27(3), 97-101.
Piotrowski, C., & Guyette, R.W. (2010). The case for the semantic differential in
organizational and business research. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 37(4), 337-
Piotrowski, C., & Guyette, R.W. (2011). Business students’ attitudes on the TARP program:
A semantic differential analysis. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 38, in press.
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Cognitive Ergonomics, 2(1), 123-143.

Cognitive Ergonomics, 2(1), 123-143.