Piotrowski, Chris. (2012).
55 PSYCHOLOGY AND EDUCATION – AN INTERDISCIPLINARY JOURNAL 2012, 49(1-2)Color Red: Implications for Applied Psychologyand Marketing Research Chris Piotrowski and Terry ArmstrongUniversity of West FloridaCollege of BusinessPensacola, FL 32514 Research shows that the color Red elicits predominantly negative reactions inhumans, i.e., avoidance motivation, threat, and danger.
Most investigators use thecolor 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 semanticdifferential instrument based on their perception of potentially adverse concepts(one of the scales was Red-Green). Data were obtained from 2 studies on attitudestoward the IRS and the federal TARP program (see Piotrowski & Guyette, 2009,2011).
Results from both studies show that respondents evaluated thesecontroversial issues as more ‘Red’. These findings suggest that the color Red isassociated 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 knowledgebase on the functional aspects of color. IntroductionColors are a ubiquitous feature of the environment and human experience.Research has indicated that colors elicit or promote an emotional response inhumans, both positive and negative (Griffith & Leonard, 1997). In recent years,there has been keen research interest on how humans react to colors and how colorsimpact us in everyday interactions.
Thus, the study of colors has become anemergent area of investigation across various fields, including social psychology,perception, ergonomics, and environmental psychology. Moreover, research oncolors is a key subject of study in the business world, in such areas as consumerbehavior, advertising, and marketing (Weitz & Wensley, 2002).
The color Red has garnered the attention of researchers. Studies show that thecolor Red is a universally primary color associated with strong emotions (Hale,2007; Swihart et al., 1999), high arousal potential (Crane & Hicks, 1989), andenhancement of strong visceral and motor response (Elliot & Aarts, 2011).
Therefore, it is not surprising that the color Red is found to be associated with threatand 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 withpositive 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 tonegative events or issues. Since Osgood and colleagues (see Snider & Osgood,1969) studied the connotative meaning of colors, we utilized their innovativesemantic differential technique to address the issue.
MethodThe study design used a novel approach in that it did not use Red as the primestimulus. 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.
Thisprovided the instrument with a semi-projective nature, since respondents were notquite sure how the SD was scored or the intent of introducing colors to the ratingexercise. In fact, several studies have utilized the SD measure and procedure in thestudy 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 bailoutprogram (Piotrowski & Guyette, 2011).
In both of these studies, the respondentsheld rather negative attitudes on the 2 issues, based on scores on the Evaluationdimension 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 wasthe mid-point, i.e., a score of 4. Results and DiscussionThe 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); thisvalue approached significance.
Overall, these results provide tentative support to thenotion that concepts or issues that have a negative connotation will be eitherperceived as more ‘Red’ or associated with the color Red. These findings alsosupport research that utilized the same SD technique and procedure (using colors asbi-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 Redhas a negative connotation for humans. Moreover, the current findings shouldprovide an impetus for additional research on how color affects behavior,perceptions, attitudes, and sentiments (e.g., Smeesters & Liu, 2011). Such findingshave implications for marketing research, such as the issue of avoidance motivation(Janaka & Tokuno, 2011) and personality factors (Singg & Whiddon, 2000).
Inaddition, 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).
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