Effects of Red Color on Mental States

A mental state is a state of mind, like love, hate, pleasure, pain, belief, hope, fear, etc. The psychology of color is based on the mental and emotional effects colors have on people in all facets of life and it relates to two main categories: warm and cool. Warm colors, such as red, yellow and orange, can spark a variety of emotions ranging from comfort and warmth to hostility and anger. Cool colors, such as green, blue and purple, often spark feelings of calmness as well as sadness. Red is a powerful color. It is stimulating and lively, but at the same time, it can be perceived as demanding and aggressive. This paper describes the association of color red with emotions and the influence of color red on memory, behavior and performance.

The association of color red with emotions

Color evokes emotion, and emotion inspires color. Red is associated with feelings of anger, mad, danger, as well as love. Below are a few experiments and results that document a novel influence of color red on emotion detection processes.

A child friendly research technique found that red color is associated with the feeling mad. This research, called Color-Your-Life, involves teaching children color-affect pairs and instructing them to fill blank papers with the colors that represent their feelings. Ethnically diverse children aged 6-13 named different emotions paired with colored crayons. Based on the results, the following color-affect pairings were selected: RED-mad, ORANGE-excited, YELLOW-happy, GREEN-lonely, BLUE-sad, BROWN-bored, BLACK-scared, and PURPLE-choice. (Ammen, Semrad, Soria, Limberg, Peterson, Moore, O’Neill, Picard, Boley, 1996). The findings showed that color red is connected with feeling angry and mad. The exciting part of this research is that scientists now have the tools to use this very simple technique to explore the emotional experiences of children.

People express love and anger more often in response to color red. A study about the influence of color on emotions was tested in the Holtzman Inkblot Technique. (Leichsenring, 2004). Samples of normals, patients with neurotic disorders, borderline patients, and both acute and chronic schizophrenics were studied with the HIT. The effect of color was tested separately for cards containing red vs. non-red colors.

According to the results, normals, patients with neurotic disorders, and borderline patients expressed love and anger significantly more often in response to cards containing red colors. For the non-red color cards neither an effect on love and anger, nor on anxiety and depression could be demonstrated. Furthermore, the chromatic cards of the HIT elicited significantly more different words given in response to a card than the achromatic cards.

Theoretical models of color and psychological functioning posit that color is not just an aesthetic stimulus, but also conveys meaningful information. The color red has received the most attention, because it is used in daily life to convey danger and potential threat in a variety of different contexts like alarms, high voltage signs, stop traffic lights, fire safety. Because red has been shown to carry the meaning of threat, exposure to red enhances the perception and identification of anger. Experiments found that exposure to red enhances the processing of facial expressions of anger. (Young, Elliot, Feltman, Ambady, 2013). In these experiments, the identification of anger relative to happiness, was facilitated when faces were viewed on a red background.

Red can also be used to express erotic feelings (think of red lips, red nails, red high heels, etc.). Studies have shown that men reported higher sexual attraction toward a woman dressed in red compared to women dressed in other colors. In the same context, for women, the color red enhances a man’s attractiveness. The results showed that women ranked the man as more attractive when he was presented against the red backdrop.

Color red and memory

Numerous studies have shown that memory is enhanced by emotionally negative and positive information relative to neutral information. From a different view, the emotion-induced memory enhancement is influenced by color. Research on the effect of emotion on memory found that the color red increased memory for negative words. (Kuhbandner, Pekrun, 2013). The study was focused on color red and color green. Because in everyday life red is often used as a warning signal, whereas green signals security, the researchers hypothesized that red might enhance memory for negative information and green memory for positive information. They measured memory for words standing out from the context by color, and manipulated the color and emotional significance of the outstanding words. Furthermore, memory for colored words was further increased by emotional significance, replicating the memory-enhancing effect of emotion.

The findings showed that red strongly increased memory for negative words, whereas green strongly increased memory for positive words. These findings provide the first evidence that emotion-induced memory enhancement is influenced by color and demonstrate that different colors can have different functions in human memory.

Color red and behavior and performance

Color influence performance and psychological functioning via learned associations. A research focused on the relation between color red and performance attainment showed that red impairs performance in such contexts and that it does so in nonconscious fashion. (Elliot, Maier, Moller, Friedman, Meinhardt, 2007). Red impairs performance on achievement tasks, because red is associated with the danger of failure in achievement contexts and evokes avoidance motivation.

Experiments demonstrated that the brief perception of red prior to an important test (e.g., an IQ test) impairs performance, and this effect takes place outside of participants’ conscious awareness. These findings suggest that care must be taken in how red is used in achievement contexts and illustrate how color can act as a subtle environmental cue that has important influences on behavior.

From a different point of view, red means power. A good example is the influence of red in sports performance. During the 2004 Summer Olympics the competitors in boxing, taekwondo, freestyle wrestling, and Greco-Roman wrestling were randomly given blue or red uniforms. A later study found that those wearing red won 55% of all the bouts which was a statistically significant increase over the expected 50%. Red is strong, basic and attention grabbing. A good example is that of a man wearing red; he is rated as high in social status, and with higher potential for success.

Color red triggers a reaction to food. Scientists investigated the implicit meaning of red in the context of healthy and unhealthy food items. The findings showed that color red triggers automatic avoidance reaction to unhealthy food. (Rohr, Kamm, Koenigstorfer, Groeppel-Klein, Wentura, 2015). Evidence suggested that the color red acts like an implicit avoidance cue in food contexts. Thus color red seems to guide the implicit evaluation of food items. In this research project participants had to categorize food items by approach-avoidance reactions, according to their healthfulness. Items were surrounded by task-irrelevant red or green circles. The result was that the color red (compared to green) facilitated automatic avoidance reactions to unhealthy foods. Therefore, color (red vs. green) in an approach-avoidance task with healthy and unhealthy food items.

In retail business, color is the single most influential factor that decides whether or not a product will be sold. Most of the researches made confirm the fact that 94% decision of purchasing something depends upon the color. Sometimes you feel re-energized by some cool vibrant colors. So either it’s a product or a mobile application, the color theme design is crucial.

Red in product design and advertisement is used to make the product seductive and help to sell. In interior decorating, touches of red can add a cheer and energy that only red can achieve.

There is also a relationship between color preference, personality and jobs. There has been some fascinating research in this area which suggests links between color preference, your personality and your career. Red is the color of passion and love. Red means leadership and it is used by goal-oriented, determined, demanding and results driven individuals.

In conclusion, color controls the human emotions, it can make you happy or it can make you sad; it can excite you or it can make you upset. Red is the simplest color, stimulating and lively, very friendly. At the same time, it can be perceived as demanding and aggressive.


Ammen, S., Semrad, J., Soria, S P., Limberg, E., Peterson, C., Moore, M., O’Neill, K., Picard, S., Boley, S. (1996). The development of tools to research the Color-Your-Life technique. International Journal of Play Therapy, Vol 5(2), 21-39.

Elliot, A J., Maier, M A., Moller, A C., Friedman, R, Meinhardt, J. (2007). When Green Is Positive and Red Is Negative: Aging and the Influence of Color on Emotional Memories. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Vol 136(1), 154-168.

Kuhbandner, C., Pekrun, R. (2013). Joint effects of emotion and color on memory. Emotion, Vol 13(3), 375-379.

Leichsenring, F. (2004). The Influence of Color on Emotions In the Holtzman Inkblot Technique. European Journal of Psychological Assessment, Vol 20(2), 116-123.

Rohr, M., Kamm, F., Koenigstorfer, J., Groeppel-Klein, A., Wentura, D. (2015). The color red supports avoidance reactions to unhealthy food. Experimental Psychology, Vol 62(5), 335-345.

Valdez, P; Mehrabian, A. (1994). Effects of colors on emotions. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Vol 123(4), 394-409.

Young, S G.; Elliot, A J.; Feltman, R; Ambady, N. (2013). Red enhances the processing of facial expressions of anger. Emotion, Vol 13(3), 380-384