Piotrowski, Chris. (2012).
Color Red: Implications for Applied Psychology and Marketing Research. Psychology and Education. 49. 55-57. 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.
55 PSYCHOLOGY AND EDUCATION – AN INTERDISCIPLINARY JOURNAL 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). Thisstudy presents a novel paradigm in that the term Red was rated as part of aresponse 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).
57 PSYCHOLOGY AND EDUCATION – AN INTERDISCIPLINARY JOURNAL
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