Stop Lights, Asian Brides and Death in Africa!

Posted by: michael  :  Category: Factors affecting Brain Health

Have you heard the expression “seeing red”? If so, what do you think it means?

Are you thinking that “seeing red” indicates anger? In part you’re right. But before we ponder further, we ought to first look at how we see colours.

Seeing Colours
Colour processing is a complex task for human brain and involves many specialized colour cells. Colour cells are cone-shaped cells the job of which is to sense or receive light.  They are responsible for vision and colour vision in moderate to bright light.

When light is dim vision is aided by another specialised light receptor known as a rod cells – since they are shaped like rods that provide a colourless response.

I don’t want to get too bogged down in the theory so for our purpose we will concentrate on the cone-shaped colour cells.

The colour cells are located in the retina – the light sensitive layer of tissue in the back of the eye which converts light into electrical signals that are sent to the brain.

Research shows that your brain identifies different colours by the comparison of signals received through different kinds of colour cells – cones. The three cones in the retina make up red-green, blue-yellow and black-white  or luminance channels. The final colour perceived is the combination of signals received by all three channels.

Effect of Colours on Brain Performance
Colour psychology’ is the study of effect of colours on human behaviour and feeling. It has been a contentious area of study supported by many random case studies and investigations rather than purely systematic scientific evidence. 

Many previous studies have proven that colours can affect your mood and thus brain health and performance. Different colours have been claimed to show different effects depending on the way of their presentation and context of reference.

However, more recent research has shown that blue and red colours can enhance our cognitive performance, depending on the nature of task. In particular, red apparently boosted performance on detail-oriented tasks such as memory retrieval while blue fostered creativity and encouraged lateral thinking.

However, I don’t think it’s quite as definitive as the findings suggest. Hence the

The ‘Seeing Red” Dilemma
So research suggests that red elicits a state of anxiety so heightening our awareness by causing a higher level of brain activity in the areas of perception and attention. Studies also show that red can have a physical effect such as increasing the rate of respiration; causing, a faster heartbeat and raising blood pressure … it may even make you feel hungry as a result of speeding up your metabolism.

So what’s the dilemma?
The use of the colour red is varies in different cultures. In the West red is most used in the sense that it elicits physical responses like heightened awareness, attention and anxiety. It is also used to display power and importance.

For example, stop-lights and other danger signals are usually red to raise the attention level. Rolling out the red carpet for celebrities is an example of using red to suggest importance. Marketers use red on product packaging or in an advertisement if they want the potential consumer to pay attention to the product details and blue if they want the consumer to see the overall picture.

But are these uses of red effective or even appropriate in other cultures.

Imagine it’s your wedding day. How do you really want to feel?  Surely you would to feel relaxed, happy and at peace so you can simply enjoy the moment.

Here’s a question for the bride-to-be. Now you know the effect red can induce do you want to swap your white dress for a red one?

If you are a Chinese or Indian bride the answer would be a definitive YES!  Indian brides love to wear red which is considered the colour of the married woman. While for the Chinese red is a symbol of hope for a very good life in the future.

So do the research results on the psychological and physiological effects of red only apply to those of us who live in the West? If so, why?

But there are more cultural differences for which to account… so lets take a trip to  Africa.  Apparently, in some parts of Africa red is a color of mourning, representing death and associated sadness and sorrow. Again such responses don’t seem consistent with the research findings  

So we seem to be left with the possibility that the brain’s responses to its perception of the colour red are in some way fashioned by the culture in which we live.

What do you think about that?  

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7 Responses to “Stop Lights, Asian Brides and Death in Africa!”

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