The Psychology of Color:

“Colours aren’t important.”

How then do you explain traffic lights, warning signs, and rainbows? Colour is important, and it’s time we pay attention to colour in Learning too.

Learning is a difficult field to understand, and there’s so much research out there discussing these issues that it’s hard to know where to begin. What’s pretty obvious though is that colour plays a key role in creating an environment that fosters learning.

So let’s talk about colour – What colours help learning? What colours might be annoying or distracting to learners? And how can we mitigate that risk? That’s what we’ll be delving into here.

Not convinced? What If I told you that colour, as part of the electromagnetic spectrum, is in its purest form energy, a wavelength, which has its own magnetic frequency? What if I told you that colours can affect neurological pathways in the brain? And that they can create a biochemical response? Now, facing that evidence, it’s clear that colour has been overlooked for far too long. Dr. Robert Gerard recognizes this and has pioneered research, which suggests that every colour has a specific wavelength, and each of these affect our body and brain in a different way.

Using the right colour, and the correct selection and placement can seriously affect the feelings, attention, and behavior of people when learning. It’s time that we leveraged that to our advantage. Even research with Alzheimer’s patients has shown that colour cues improve memory and that learners recall images in colour more easily than images in black and white – amazing?

In saying that, we’re not expecting you to be the next Picasso– but a fundamental understanding of which colours work will benefit your Learning and teaching environments to no end. So that’s what we’re going to do now. We’ll be going through some of the key colours and having a look at what they mean to you and your students. Bear in mind of course, that this isn’t a definitive science. It might be that you’re scared of blue because you’re scared of water – there are unique elements to color choice. But what we’re going for here is a broad-strokes approach that helps us appeal to the most learners with the right colors for our projects. Okay, boilerplate done, let’s begin.

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1) Green: Welcome to Concentration Country

You probably know this already, just by taking a look at a forest or a field. Low wavelength colors promote restfulness and calm, and they improve efficiency and focus.

So that’s why green is an excellent colour for improving concentration. Apart from being one of the easiest colours on the eyes, it reminds us of nature. That’s why TV stars stay in the ‘green room’. It’s a relaxing space.

Green is a good colour for keeping long-term concentration and clarity, making it a good choice for an office – as opposed to red, which is seen as stimulating and exciting. Maybe it helps in the short term, but stimulation has to tail off sometimes.

Interestingly enough, there’s some real scientific evidence for this. Some studies have shown that people who work in green painted offices have higher rates of job satisfaction, and consumers have been shown to spend more time shopping in stores that are painted green.

Another study, led by Dr. Kate Lee, examined 150 university students. She gave the group a boring, monotonous task that dragged their attention span to a breaking point, pressing a series of numbers over and over as they read off a computer screen. The students were told not to press keys when the number three appeared on the screen. Then break time came, and in a 40-second window half of the group viewed a green painted roof, while the others looked out onto a bare concrete unpainted roof. Amazingly, the research showed that students who looked at the green painted roof view made fewer errors and had overall better concentration.

Dr. Lee hypothesizes that the green painted roof provided a ‘restorative experience’ which helped boost the mental resources of the students involved in the study. If true, that’s a major consideration. If your learners are tired and bored of their compliance material, add in a restorative green screen, a forest scene, or something else for a bit of a break. Lee believes that just a moment of looking at a green painted space could provide a moment of revitalization for workers who were struggling to concentrate.

2) Orange: Is Mood Lifter!

Think about the orange sun setting over the horizon. Nice, right? It’s true, orange can be a welcoming and mood-lifting colour for learners, which in turn promotes comfort and improves neural functioning.

Some theorists argue that an environment rich in the colour orange increases the oxygen supply to the brain, stimulating mental activity while simultaneously loosening peoples’ inhibitions. An increased oxygen supply also leads to feeling invigorated and getting ready to ‘get things done.’ Some have even suggested that test centers be painted orange to stimulate exam-takers.

But this comes at a cost – avoid bolder orange colours if your learners are young and naturally energetic. This isn’t a good colour for those prone to overstimulation as well, for instance, if your group of learners has an attention deficit hyperactive disorder or another health concern which leads to easy overstimulation.

So to close out orange as a color, in Learning environments it can be used in high energy areas such as creative spaces, communicate energy, life, and activity. Orange is a vibrant color that demands attention, giving it an edge as a choice for highlighting. But again, use with caution!

3) Blue: Feelin’ Blue Means Productive – Not Sad!

Some research suggests that people with highly intellectual work, which requires a high cognitive load, for instance, programmers or academics, are most productive in a blue environment. That said, though; we can’t keep life too monochromatic – it should be balanced with warmer colors. These can be found by using the opposite side of the color wheel.

Blue is best used for learning situations which are intensely challenging. Blue paper, blue ink, or blue highlighting can be used to help improve reading comprehension too. Blue in general it seems is a relaxing and calming color, but lighter shades will seem more ‘friendly’ while darker ones seem a little more somber.

Back to the experts, many color psychologists recommend using blue colours, but adding a bit of extra kick with orange.

So in summary, blue is great for promoting high levels of thought, but too much can create a sense of detachment and coldness.