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BECK, L., HUGHES, T., MADDOX, B. & MARTIN, C. (2007). Effects of Color and Gender on Working Memory . National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 10. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved September 26, 2023 .

Effects of Color and Gender on Working Memory

Sponsored by: JASON WARNICK (jwarnick@atu.edu)
As memorization processes are studied and looked at to be improved, color coding has been a chief attribute studied. This experiment sought to determine if the color of the text being memorized has an effect on the participantís ability to recall the information. This experiment also looks at whether gender can be further correlated with certain colors and memorization ability. Although the statistics do not show a significant relationship, there is evidence that the color blue has a positive effect on memorization between both genders. These results are consistent with the research literature.

Memory has been studied from almost every angle throughout the years. The ability to convert stimuli into memory is what has enabled mankind to learn and evolve (Carlson, 2004). The scientific study of memory has yielded several memory enhancing techniques, including mnemonic devices such as, acronyms, rhymes and the method of loci (Goldman, 2007). Researchers have found correlations between color and memorization ability (Elliot, Maier & Moller, 2007). Another possible variable that could affect the memorization ability is gender. Research based on an evolutionary theory (i.e., hunter gatherer theory) has shown that women have better recall for objects, with color being a possible predictor (Eals & Silverman, 1994). It is the contention of this study that women, as the primary gatherers in evolutionary theory, will be more attuned to color. Furthermore, it has been shown that color does have an effect on the mood of females (Ainsworth, Simpson, Cassell & 1993), and mood has been linked to memory (Zarrella, 1995). This study sought to identify whether color had an effect on memorization ability. Moreover, this study delves into the degree to which men and women differ in how they are affected by color. In this study, a series of nonsense syllables (Ebbinghaus, 1913), were shown to undergraduate students. They were presented in various colors for a brief time. The students were then asked to recall all of the nonsense syllables that they could.


The participants were 147 male and 142 female undergraduate students enrolled in eight different General Psychology courses at Arkansas Tech University. The students were not offered any form of compensation for participation, nor were they penalized for not participating by those conducting the experiment.

Each participant began the experiment by viewing a list of ten nonsense syllables that were shown through Microsoft PowerPoint on a projection screen for one minute. The consonant combinations were typed in all caps using 32-point, Arial Black font. In each of the four different classes, the same combinations were shown but in a different color (black, red, blue, or green). After one minute had elapsed, the words were taken off the screen, and the students were instructed to perform a distracter task, which consisted of writing a series of odd numbers starting with the number one on the blank sheet of notebook paper provided for them. They engaged in this task for thirty seconds. Next, participants turned over their paper and were given one minute to write down all of the nonsense syllables they could remember from the list on the screen. After completing the experiment, each participant turned in the piece of notebook paper that their tasks were completed on without their name. The only other information written on the paper by the participants was their gender and the color in which the nonsense syllables were presented to them. IRB approval was not attained as this experiment did not pose a risk to the subjects, and each individualís performance was kept confidential, and the data was not disseminated outside of the classroom.

The mean scores on the memory task for both genders are summarized in Figure 1. Neither gender displayed any recall differences across the different color nonsense syllables. Consistent with this description, a two-way ANOVA showed no significant difference for Gender [F (1, 196) = .497, p = .482], Color [F (3, 196) = .147, p = .932], or Gender X Color interaction [F (3, 196) = 1.098, p = .351].


The hypothesis of this study is that color would have a positive correlation with memory, and that females would recall the colored nonsense syllables more accurately than males. The results of this experiment are not statistically indicative of any significant correlation between color and working memory. There could be a number of reasons that led to the non-statistically significant findings. Some possible weaknesses of this experiment include, the limited diversity of age in our sample and the fact that the participants were being tested on a skill whereas other experiments they may have participated in were surveys. Also, the distracter task might have been strong enough that it actually skewed all the data for this particular sample and the lack of reward for participating are other possible weakness. Further studies could be done to elaborate on the experiment; for example, four different groups of students could be given the four different colored texts to study from. Their study time and habits could be controlled and monitored for a one week period, and then the participants would be graded on their knowledge of the content.

Ainsworth, R. A., Simpson, L., & Cassell, D. (1993). Effects of three colors in an office interior on mood and performance. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 76, 235-241.

Carlson, Neil R., (2004). Physiology of Behavior (8th ed.). Massachusetts: Pearson Education Inc.

Eals, M., & Silverman, I. (1994). The hunter-gatherer theory of spatial sex differences: Proximate factors mediating the female advantage in recall of object arrays. Ethology & Sociobiology, 15, 95-105.

Ebbinghaus, H. (1913). Memory: A contribution to experimental psychology. American Journal of Psychology, 42, 505-18.

Elliot, A. J., Maier, M. A., & Moller, A. C. (2007). Color and psychological functioning: the effect of red on performance attainment. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 136, 154-168.

Goldman, Mitchell. (2007). Directory of unpublished experimental mental measures (Vol 9). Washington D.C.. American Psychological Association

Ikeda, T., & Osaka, N. (2007). How are colors memorized in working memory? A functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Neuroreport: For Rapid Communication of Neuroscience Research, 18, 111-114.

Ioan, S., Sandulache, M., & Avramescu, S. (2007). Red is a distracter for men in competition. Evolution and Human Behavior, 28, 285-293.

Kaiser, H., & Power, S. (2006). Testosterone and conflict tactics within late-adolescent couples: A dyadic predictive model. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 32, 231-248.

Zarrella, K. L. (1995). Memory deficits in mood disorders: Validation of diagnostic criterion. The Sciences and Engineering, 56, 3471.

Submitted 12/21/2007 11:44:22 AM
Last Edited 12/21/2007 1:54:03 PM
Converted to New Site 03/09/2009

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