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What is the colour of cleverness?

What is the colour of cleverness?

The question “What is the colour of cleverness?” is an intriguing one that invites us to ponder the relationship between colours and intellectual abilities. At first glance, it may seem that colour and intelligence have little to do with one another. However, research has shown that there are some fascinating links between colours and cognitive performance.

In this article, we will explore some of the key findings around colours and cleverness. We will look at studies examining how colours can impact learning, memory, creativity, focus, and more. Understanding these connections can provide valuable insights into how we can use colour psychology to boost intellectual skills in various settings, from classrooms to workplaces.

The Science of Colour Psychology

Before diving into the research around colours and intelligence, it is helpful to understand some basics about the psychology of colour. The colours around us are not just aesthetic; they can profoundly influence our moods, emotions, and behaviours.

This occurs because colour perception takes place in the brain. When light of different wavelengths hits our retina, signals are sent to the visual cortex. This area of the brain interprets those signals as colour. But it also has connections to parts of the limbic system that regulate emotion and memory.

As a result, colours have psychological properties that can stimulate emotional and physiological responses. For example, blue light promotes calmness and focus, while red has been found to raise arousal and stimulate appetite. The impact of colour on mood is so significant that colour therapy is sometimes used to treat mental health conditions.

Understanding these emotional and cognitive effects of colour is key to unlocking the relationship between colour and intellectual performance. While colour itself may not directly change intelligence, its impacts on factors like mood, alertness, and stress can influence how effectively a person is able to use their mental capabilities.

Blue: The Colour of Concentration

One of the most robust findings when it comes to colours and intelligence is that shades of blue can improve focus and concentration. In numerous studies, exposure to or visualisation of the colour blue has been linked to boosted performance on tasks requiring sustained attention.

For example, a 2017 study had participants take an attention-demanding IQ test either in a room with blue walls or a room with white walls. Those in the blue room scored significantly higher on the test compared to the white room group. The researchers attributed this finding to blue light having a calming effect on the autonomic nervous system. This leads to greater relaxation and less distraction, allowing for better attentional control.

Research has also shown benefits of blue when it comes to detail-oriented work. In a study of proofreading exercises, participants made about 20% fewer errors when text was presented on a blue background compared to red, green, or grey backgrounds. The enhanced precision tied to the colour blue may be due to its ability to evoke greater engagement in work requiring strong focus.

So when concentration and mental stamina are key, exposure to the colour blue in your surroundings could give your intelligence a boost. Many tech companies have adopted blue colour schemes in their office spaces for this very reason.

Red: The Colour of Motivation and Attention

At the other end of the colour spectrum, we have red. In contrast to calming blue hues, red is known to raise arousal, get the blood pumping, and stimulate the brain and body. Think of how red is used in signs to grab attention, or the red flashing lights of an alarm triggering an emergency reaction.

Applied properly, these excitatory effects of red can enhance mental acuity and motivation. However, getting the dose right is key, as too much red can become overstimulating.

A widely cited study on intellectual performance and colour tested university students on a detail-oriented IQ test against red, grey, and green background colours. The red group scored 5-10% higher compared to the lower arousal colours. The researchers concluded the higher cortical activation provoked by red drove greater focus and attention, boosting cognitive processing.

Other studies have shown people solve problems more quickly in red environments and that red can increase interest and extrinsic motivation. Participants wearing red also exhibit elevated heart rates, suggesting cognitive effort is literally more “heartfelt” in achievement settings coloured red.

However, some experiments have found that extremely bright, saturated red degrades complex cognitive performance, likely due to overstimulation. So balance is important when harnessing red’s mental boosts.

Green: The Colour of Creativity

The colour green evokes nature, growth, and renewal. It induces gentle stimulation balanced with relaxation. For this reason, green is considered one of the most emotionally positive colours and is often used to signal prosperity, harmony, and wellbeing.

Turns out, these properties also make green conducive to creativity and imaginative thinking. In a study testing students’ creative cognition against different coloured backgrounds, the green group significantly outperformed groups exposed to white, grey, blue, and red.

Researchers hypothesize that as an emotionally uplifting colour, green may broaden cognitive scope, facilitating free association and original ideas. There also appears to be links between green and improved visual-spatial processing, which supports skills like mental rotation and manipulation of objects in the mind’s eye that underlie much inventive thought.

Fascinatingly, glimpsing green before a creativity task may be just as effective as prolonged exposure. One study found that participants who briefly viewed a green flashing light demonstrated nearly 30% greater creativity in word associations compared to those shown a grey light.

The colour green not only benefits creativity itself, but also seems to put people in a more open, explorative mindset. Participants rated toys and products as more novel and creative when displayed against green compared to red or grey backgrounds.

So if you are looking to think outside the box, infusing green into your environment may nourish the garden of your imagination. Large companies have been putting this research into practice, using green to colour brainstorming rooms and products meant to spark innovation.

Yellow: The Colour of Persistence

Connected to sunshine and vitality, yellow is known as the most energetic hue on the colour wheel. It captures attention, infuses optimism, and signals novelty or originality.

Psychology studies indicate yellow can also boost resilience and perseverance, which are valuable mental skills. One study found that exposure to yellow visuals increased concentration of dorsolateral prefrontal cortex activity. This region is involved in executive functions like planning, reasoning, and sustained attention.

Other experiments have demonstrated links between yellow and staying on task. In a test of competitive focus, table tennis players accumulated a 15% greater score against a yellow versus grey background. The bold hue seemed to increase the players’ persistence, energy, and resilience to triumph.

The cognitive associations provoked by yellow may drive these effects. Yellow is linked to concepts like hope, positivity, and bravery, which can translate into greater intellectual stamina. Bright yellow surroundings have also been found to heighten arousal and induce adrenaline release.

While too much yellow may cause overstimulation, controlled doses in learning or achievement settings may help minds stay engaged and push through challenges requiring grit or sustained focus.

Purple: The Colour of Thoughtfulness

Historically, purple has been associated with spirituality, reflection, and mysticism. In colour psychology, purple evokes introspection. It can bring out imagination but also thoughtful awareness and wisdom.

Connecting purple to mental profundity are associations with depth, dignity, and gravity. Notice how purple is used in settings connoting authority and significance, like royal garments and academic graduation gowns.

This reflective quality appears to aid mental processes where deep thinking, precision, or systematic logic are needed. One study tested participants on a cognitive task requiring strong focus and diligent reasoning against either purple or non-purple coloured backgrounds. Not only did the purple group perform better overall, MRI scans showed greater synchronized activation across the frontal and parietal brain regions linked to concentration and reasoning.

Purple’s ability to stimulate introspection also seems to benefit memory. Researchers found that seeing purple prior to a memory test triggered greater activity in the prefrontal cortex, which handles the cognitive control of recollection. The brain boost translated to 20% enhanced memory performance.

So when you need to exercise serious mental capacity involving internal reflection, complex logic, or methodical thinking, purple may help bring greater consciousness and care to the cognitive process.

Orange: The Colour of Mental Alertness

If you want a colour to boost your mental alertness, orange is a solid choice. Orange is attention-grabbing and stimulative without being as overpowering as red. In colour psychology, it communicates enthusiasm, fascination, determination, and stimulation.

Studies indicate orange has a unique mind-sharpening influence. Participants exposed to orange visuals demonstrate heightened brain activity, elevated heart rate, and boosted oxygen in the blood compared to neutral colours. This reflects an elevated state of mental alertness and focus.

One explanation may be orange’s link to novelty and adventure. It excites the mind to explore and discover, acting as a sort of “cognitive vitamin”. This aligns with research on psychological needs, where curiosity has been shown critical for cognitive health and fighting intellectual decline.

The inspirational effects of orange seem helpful prior to learning or performance challenges. Students subjected to orange reported greater motivation and interest in an upcoming math test compared to students shown grey or white.

Orange may also improve communication of complex ideas. Presenting dense information on orange slides has been found superior for retention compared to blue, grey, or no colour, helping mental processing of details.

So if you need a quick cognitive or mental energy boost, orange may be your colour. There is a reason many highlighters and school supplies come in shades of orange!

Putting Colour Psychology into Practice

Now that we have explored some of the main colour associations with intellectual performance, how can we apply this knowledge in real world practice? Here are some evidence-based tips.

– Surround yourself with blue hues when you need to power through cognitively demanding tasks requiring strong focus over a long time like studying, analyzing data, or computer programming. Blue screens can also boost productivity.

– Expose yourself to red when you need a shot of motivation or immediacy. Use it when energy or urgency is required – before a test, presentation, competition etc. But be wary of red overload. Consider pink or subtle red accents.

– Green is perfect for group brainstorming activities where you want to spark creativity. It lowers inhibition and nudges people to think expansively.

– Incorporate yellow in learning settings where resilience and persistence will be key, like when mastering a difficult skill or subject matter. It can help intellects stay the course.

– Use purple when logic, precision, or systematic thinking is paramount. It stimulates greater consciousness and care in mental processing.

– Orange is great for energizing minds before lectures, projects, or creative undertakings where alertness and acuity are beneficial.

– For visual aids like presentations, graphs, charts, or infographics, use colours purposefully based on context. Blue for focus, green for creativity, purple for logic, orange for energy.

– For physical spaces, add accent colours to key areas. Blue in offices, orange or yellow in conference rooms, green in innovator think spaces, purple in legal or academic settings.


While colour may not directly change intelligence, psychological research makes clear that our surrounds impact how effectively we are able to apply our mental capacities. Colours influence cognition on emotional, neurological, and even biological levels.

By strategically using colour in environments and activities, we can support intellectual performance ranging from memory to motivation. Blue boosts focus, red drives urgency, green unlocks creativity, yellow improves persistence, purple engages logic, and orange heightens alertness.

So while the notion of a singular colour of cleverness may be arbitrary, the metaphor reminds us that colour can profoundly shape the mind. With greater awareness of colour psychology, we can more purposefully curate our contexts to sharpen our thinking skills and reach our cognitive potential.