The Use of Color to Increase Memorization
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
SLEETH, W. M. (2004). The Use of Color to Increase Memorization. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 7. Available online at Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

The Use of Color to Increase Memorization
Missouri Western State University DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (
The purpose of this study was to learn if adding color to words would help in memorization of these words. There were 41 participants in this study. The participants were from three different entry level classes at Missouri Western State College. For this study I had three groups which were presented one of the three lists of 12 words that I compiled based on words not used in everyday conversation. The first group was presented a list of 12 black words. The second group was presented the same 12 words, with one word being red. The third group was presented the same 12 words, except six of the words were red and they were alternated with 6 black words. The results from this study were not significant when one color word was present, but were closer to being significant when the participants were presented with six color words alternated with six black words. Further studies may include the use of colors other than red and words which may be used in everyday conversation.

There is a lot of research on how color may increase memory. Most of the research is based on how color enhances recall with images or scenes. Not only has color shown to help with performance on focused attention and integration tasks, it also leads to more accurate recognition than the use of standard black and white (Hanna & Remington, 1996). It has been found that color is part of the long-term memory representation and images and scenes are better remembered when seen in color than in black-and-white. Color may influence the way information is processed and possibly may improve the ability to recall both words and pictures (Myers, 2004). A study testing the recall of black and white pictures compared to color pictures showed a significant difference in the remembrance of colored photographs as long as the photographs were of natural scenes and was normally colored. When the photographs were incorrectly colored, they were not recalled any better than the black and white photographs.

Different colors can have different effects on people (Myers, 2004). Blue is often used for relaxation and will cause the brain to produce tranquility hormones, whereas red is used to increase adrenaline and energy levels. Orange is sometimes used to try and generate the feeling of hunger. Marketing advertisement agencies often teach which colors will best attract the interest of the consumer and catch their attention in order to possibly increase the chance of selling certain products. Banks often use blue to suggest tranquility and offer a hint of being safe and secure. The traffic signal colors are used because these are colors that people are familiar with. Red refers to stop; it is used to get peopleís attention. Green is used to inform people that it is okay to continue, and yellow is used for caution. There is some research on how color in pictures can increase the memory of that picture or item, but there is little research, that I have found, concerning the use of color to help with studying, such as with the use of highlighted words. According to Denby (2002), finding the color that best stimulates memorization could increase a personís study skills. The colors should be bright so as not to confuse a person with certain disorders such as color blindness or an aging condition of they eye known as presbyopia, as lighter colors start to fade, they might not have the contrast needed to distinguish a particular word that is highlighted from the other words on the page. The color of the background may have to be changed for a person that has dyslexia.

People are used to seeing words written in black ink, so to catch someoneís attention, highlight or write the specific word that is needed to be remembered in a color different than black, such as the color red. A study performed on newspaper black and white ads had a recall rate of 6 percent, but an advertisement placed using color had a recall rate of 21 percent (Denby, 2002). There are many websites available to give a person some study hints and most of them will suggest the use of highlighting key words or phrases (Rapaport, 2004). The color red is bright and has a high contrast to the color of black, which should set the particular word apart enabling the word to be more easily remembered.

I am interested in finding out if red, the color used to get someoneís attention or to signify danger, will increase the memorization of words. Textbooks often use bold black or italics to set apart an important word or phrase, but could it be possible that the words or phrases to be set apart would be better remembered if they were in a brighter color, such as red? My son has learning difficulties and I would like to find out if it would help his spelling and remembrance of harder words if they were set apart from the words he seems to have an easier time remembering. Would this use of red lettering help him in remembering more difficult items of which the teachers are interested in or help him study for a test if this word was set apart from the other less important words and phrases? The purpose of this study is to see if using the color red on words will help increase memorization of these words as long as it sets them apart from other words on a page.


The participants consisted of 41 students in 3 different introductory level classes at Missouri Western State college.

I used three lists of various words that I chose which are generally not used in everyday conversation. The first list of 12 words was printed in black ink (See Appendix A). The second list was the same 12 words, 11 of which were printed in black ink and 1 word printed in red ink (See Appendix B). The third list contained the same 12 words, 6 of which were printed in black ink and 6 printed in red ink (See Appendix C).

I gave each of the three classes a different style of the same words on the overhead. They were instructed that they had one minute to look over the list of words. At the end of one minute, I removed the list of words and asked the participants to write down as many of the words as they could remember. I then collected the data and computed the results.

The percentage of correctly remembered black words and correctly remembered red words were compared using a one-way ANOVA. No significant difference was found (F(2,38) = .005, p> .05).

A mixed-design ANOVA was calculated to examine the percentage of black words that were correctly remembered and red words that were correctly remembered. No significant main effects or interactions were found (Figure 1).

I wanted to find out if adding color to words would help to increase memorization of those words. Although the results were not significant between each individual groups when comparing the remembrance of black words, they were close to significant when comparing the remembrance of red words. The results were the opposite of what I expected them to be. I expected close to 100 percent recall of the 1 red word when mixed with the 11 black words. The results showed that more of the reds words were remembered when the red words were alternated with black words instead of just one red word offset against the rest of the words printed in black. The results of this study show that it might be better to highlight more than one word to increase memorization when using the color red. The results may have been different if another color other than red was to be used. As Denby (2002) stated, finding the color that best stimulates memorization could increase a personís study skills. A different study could be used to test the different colors to see if a specific color has the potential to increase the memorization of single words. Another study could be created to show if different colors show an increase of memorization of single words compared to phrases.

Denby, C. (2002). Importance of memory color. Retrieved February 28, 2004. From, A., & Remington, R. (1996). The representation of color and form in long-term memory. Memory and Cognition. May 1996, 24, 322-330.Myers, J. (2004). The color of learning. Fundamentals, Training and Development. February 2004, 19-20.Rapaport, W. J. (2004). How to study. Retrieved February 28, 2004. From

Submitted 5/3/2004 5:01:02 PM
Last Edited 5/3/2004 5:30:19 PM
Converted to New Site 03/09/2009

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