Color in the Learning Environment
- By Deborah P. Moore
- July 1st, 2016
Researchers have long known that color affects the
performance, emotions and the behavior of students within
their physical learning environment. Subjects performed
five to 10 percent better on standardized pattern recognition
tests when they were administered in color rather black and
white. The effect also boosted memory over time (Wichmann,
Sharpe, Gegenfurtner). But the excessive use of color, motion,
or pattern can create a stressful learning environment.
Researchers at the University of British Columbia
conducted tests with 600 participants to see how cognitive
performance varies when people see red or blue. Participants
performed tasks in which words or images were displayed
against red, blue or neutral backgrounds on computer
screens. Red groups did better on tests of recall and attention
to detail, like remembering words or checking spelling
and punctuation. Blue groups did better on tests requiring
invention and imagination: coming up with creative uses for
a brick or creating toys from collections of shapes.
Study after study concludes that there is direct
correlation between the physical characteristics of the
learning environment and educational outcomes. The
use of color in school design is an element that affects
more than the aesthetics of the building. Kathie Engelbrecht,
a noted educational planner, feels that we must
be sensitive to each age group’s different responses to
color in order to create an environment that will enhance
their educational experience. Young children gravitate
towards bright, warm colors such as red and yellow,
orange, and violet. Middle and high school students tend
to view primary colors as immature. Adolescents prefer
cooler colors and more subdued hues.
A West German study on white walls in the work place
resulted in findings that termed this environment as being
neutral, sterile, empty and without vitality. Psychologically,
white has nothing to offer and is often viewed as the
cause of eye strain and fatigue.
- Red is interpreted as warm or hot; can generate feelings
of energy, excitement or threat; appears to improve
focus and performance.
- Orange is interpreted as warm or hot; invites friendliness,
stimulates critical thinking and memory.
- Yellow is interpreted as warm or hot; can make us feel
happy; inspires creativity.
- Green is interpreted as cool or cold; appears to be relaxing
but if overdone it can lead to feelings of stress.
- Blue is interpreted as cool or cold; stimulates creativity
and can product a state of calm, but in excess, it may
encourage feelings of depression
Schools do not give enough consideration to color in
the learning environment. “Many cases of nervousness,
irritability, lack of interest, and behavioral problems can
be attributed directly to incorrect environmental conditions
involving poorly planned light and color. Studies
have shown that a functionally and thoughtfully planned
school interior facilitates learning new subject matter and
improves scholastic performance” (Mahnke).
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of School Planning & Management.