What is the Best Color for Studying?

That colors have an influence on our mood and emotions is well known. So I was wondering if I could use color to improve my study.

So what is the best color for studying? According to recent studies, the way color can improve study performance is by increasing alertness and neural activity through arousal. The most suitable colors for this are red, orange and yellow.

That is in a way surprising. I thought a calm green would be the perfect color for a study room but apparently, vividness is much more motivational. But what exactly should be colored and why not a more relaxing color?

What exactly is the effect of different colors on study performance?

The fact that colors influence our emotions and alertness level is not new.  Designers and Advertisers are heavily using colors to emphasize product features and create an emotional response. So let’s have a look at the main colors and their effects along with some brand examples, just think about it for amoment of what these brands represent:

RED: The effects of red are probably the most obvious because they are used everywhere to alert us like on stop signs or to draw our attention to things like emergency buttons or alarms. Just think of fire extinguishers and the red cross.

ORANGE: This color is associated with physical comfort, food, warmth, security, passion, and fun. Typical brand examples that want to transport this message are Fanta, JBL or Nickolodeon.

YELLOW: Is the color that represents creativity, optimism, confidence, and emotional strength. Famous brands that want to convey this type of message are for example Mc Donalds, Post-It, and Nikon.

GREEN: Is naturally associated with harmony, balance, refreshment, rest, reassurance, environmental awareness and peace. Popular brands here are Starbucks, Heinecken, and Sprite.

BLUE: I always think of blue as the color for business and indeed it is associated with intelligence, communication, trust, efficiency, duty, logic, coolness. Good brand examples are my previous long-term employer HP, LinkedIn and American Express.

So what does this have to do with study performance? The combination of orange, yellow combined with accents of red seems to be the best combination to improve your study efforts. Confidence (Yellow) paired with passion (orange) and some accents like a red cup, mousepad for alertness is the way I am going to go according to this research. I was looking to redecorate my study room and this seems to be the way. I will pick the yellow/orange colors not as vivid as in the example above (except for the red accents). I am going put up a picture here once it is completed.

What is the best color to write with

Though many people recommend using different colors to underline and work with texts the same goes here as for highlighting text with markers as I explain further down. The color is not important. What matter is that you summarize whatever you study with your own words. Coloring something that is already on paper does not improve memorizing it. The far better method is to create mind maps, flashcards, practice questions or cheat-sheets from the material you need to study. I personally prefer mind maps to keep track of the big picture and practice questions to test myself on the material. Using colors in mindmaps to emphasize certain facts combined with icons to visualize the material is a perfect method to organize your study notes.

What is the best desk color according to Feng Shui

When I lived in China for a couple of years I learned a bit about Feng Shui (which by the way means wind and water). I know that Feng Shui is not a real science but since it evolved from the experience of generations it might be worthy to take a look at it. According to Feng Shui, the following desk colors are associated with certain effects on your mood and hence your study.

  • Red – I personally never had or saw a red desk but according to Feng Shui it has an activating effect that keeps you on your heels. So I put a red bed sheet on my desk for a while and it was quite disturbing. Red on large areas just doesn’t work for me – being alert all the time rather made me feel nervous.
  • Black – Is described as on open-minded introspective color which supports concentration. I had a black desk once and cannot say that I felt more concentrated. I just remember I needed to clean it all the time because you see everything on a black desk.
  • Brown – Comforting and grounding are the adjectives that go with brown. I feel good when I sit at my current brown desk. The wooden color makes it feel solid – I would go with brown again if I get a new one.
  • White – Discipline, clarity and style comes to mind. But sitting at a white desk (I tried it) especially writing on a white paper is just too bright and I found it very exhausting.
  • Green – is according to Feng Shui supposed to revitalize you and support your creativity. I took a green screen background from my photography utensils and put it on my desk for a while – absolutely horrible, this was the worst color desk to sit at. 

My recommendation after this self-experiment is clearly a classic brown. That was the color that was least disturbing so I could focus on my task rather than on the desk itself.

Do colored glasses help you study?

Not everybody can afford or has the opportunity to redesign the study area, paint the walls or buy a new desk. So why not just wear some colored glasses? I did not find any real research about this but fortunately, I still had some yellowish glasses lying around so I tried to read a chapter of a book I need for my new preparation with them and another similar one without. The colored glasses were extremely disturbing and for a chapter with a similar length, I needed much longer than without. What I found so distracting was that I had to wear them on top of my regular glasses and that not only the study material but the whole environment was strange looking and distracting. Especially when looking at a computer screen the area behind the screen looked so unfamiliar and it was hard to focus on the topic. If you like to try it yourself I found a collection of 10 colored glasses on Amazon – though I would not expect an improvement in your study results you will certainly attract everyone’s attention. 

The bright white of the screen is stressful for the eyes, particularly after a long day at my notebook. To relax my eyes I use and highly recommend a free tool called f.lux. It slowly adjusts your screen color to a warmer tone in the evening which really makes late evening computer study and research so much more comfortable. Just give it a try.

Related questions

Does color-highlighting text help you remember better? No, it doesn’t. That might come as a surprise, it came as one to me, I used to color code everything hoping revisions would be easier. Marking important facts in books or other study material is such a widely used study aid. The problem with highlighting is that it creates a false sense of fluency. If you reread something you have highlighted as part of your revision it looks familiar and suggests your brain that you already know it. Marking something makes it look important and you trick yourself into thinking of having memorized it. This is very similar to the phenomenon I encountered when I researched the influence of the best study font (You can check it here). Making something easy to read does not help your study efforts. 

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