Our brains are amazing things, capable of countless thoughts and instructions. With so much information we have to take in during our day to day lives, we can improve our memory by organising our thoughts using various methods. This post provides a brief introduction to the theory behind the memory of colour, and how colour affects memory performance.
The memory process
Colour can have a dramatic impact between the sensory and short-term memory. Quite simply, colour attracts attention. It stimulates your creative thinking process and also helps the brain make associations in terms of location, relevance and position on the page, thus starting the processing of information.
Hedwig von Restorff said that one colour is monotonous and boring, so the brain will just switch off. By using colour when writing, in particular warm colours such as yellow, you add an element of surprise to stimulate the brain. Past experiments have shown that highlighting key words and phrases when studying for a test provide memory benefits versus not using any kind of highlighting. The Stabilo Boss has been used for over 30 years as a colourful study aid, or you could try keeping different coloured pointBalls handy for writing important dates or appointments.
As the old adage goes, "a picture is worth a thousand words". It is easier for us to remember things as images, as this is how we think; you're recall of the objects pictured is probably better than it would be if the items were presented as a written list. So logic, and a bit of research, suggests that the more images you use when trying to remember something, the more successful you will be. However, images are best remembered when they are in natural or expected colours, if the stimulus is too strange, it will simply be ignored.
How is this information useful?
The research conducted into how memory is affected by colour has been translated to a range of applications. These ave included using colours in intervention programs for people with reading difficulties, to make the program easier to follow. Vivid colours have also been used to successfully improve the short-term memory of individuals with Alzheimer's Disease.
Facts and figures about colour and memory:
So how can you put this into practice, to help you remember things on both a day to day basis, and in more specific situations, such as exam revision or presentation preparation? Find out here.
Stabilo have a huge range of pens in a variety of colours, available here.
Greene, T.C., Bell, P.A., & Boyer, W.N. (1983). Coloring the environment: Hue, arousal, and boredom. Bulletin of Psychonomic Society.
Wilkins, A.J. (2003). Reading through colour. Wiley: Chichester.
Ludlow, A.K., Wilkins, A.J.J. (2009). Case report: color as a therapeutic intervention. Journal of Austism and Developmental Disorders.
Cernin, P., Keller, B., Stner, J., (2003). Color vision in Alzheimer's patients: can we improve object recognition with color cues? Aging Neuropsychology.
Green, R.E. (1989). The persuasive properties of color. Marketing Communications.
Wite, J.V. (1997). Color for impact: How color can get your message across - or get in the way. Strathmore Press, US.
Loyola University School of Business, Chicago, IL. (1999). As reported in Hewlett-Packard's Advisor.
US Department of Labor (1996). Presenting effective presentations with visual aids. OSHA Office of Training and Education.
Jones, D., (2004). The definitive guide to office colour printing. Written for HP Invent.
2 April 2014