Altruism is a trait that is usually associated with people of high moral standards, although new research indicates that environmental factors such as the colors that surround us can have a significant effect on our willingness to help others. Specifically, the color blue tends to make people more charitable, while red inspires more selfish choices.
Scientists have known for some time that colors can strongly influence behavior in the animal kingdom, with some studies showing that red significantly increases aggression in certain species of bird. Back in 2013, researchers began investigating if the same held true for humans, and discovered that after looking at the color red, people were more likely to make aggressive bids at auctions.
According to a new study in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, colors alter our behavior by changing the way that our brains process information, and therefore influence how likely we are to act selfishly.
To conduct their study, the researchers asked volunteers to look at a computer screen with either a red or a blue background, before taking part in a gambling game. Based on the wagers made by participants, the study authors were able to determine whether they were making “attribute-based” decisions, which are driven by the desirability of a particular outcome, or “alternative-based” decisions, which are informed by risk factors.
Initial results indicated that people were much more likely to assess information in an attribute-based manner after looking at a blue screen, and in an alternative-based way after looking at a red screen.
Immediately after completing the gambling task, participants were shown photographs of underprivileged children and asked to donate to a charity that provides education to youngsters who have no access to schooling. Those who had seen a blue screen were much more likely to donate than those who had seen red.
The study authors therefore conclude that blue induces an attribute-based mode of analyzing information, which leads to greater levels of altruism, while red enhances selfishness by generating more alternative-based modes of cognition.
Building on these findings, the researchers suggest that using more blue in their promotional campaigns could help charities secure more donations, while companies that want to convince consumers to spend more on themselves could consider using more red.