How Does Color Affect Memory?

Human brain in different colors representing memory centers

Good memory is essential for independent living, staying focused, completing tasks and getting good grades. Research has now proven the link between the use of colors to improve memory. Art therapy uses colors which stimulates the limbic area of the brain that deals with retention. In her book ‘Improving Memory through Creativity’, author Amanda Pike talks of a study on 91 older adults from different countries who were administered art therapy for 10 weeks. At the end of the study, the experimental group reported improved cognitive skills, as compared to the control group.

Here are some more studies that show us how color impacts memory retention and learning.

  • In her book ADHD and LD: Classroom Strategies at Your Fingertips author Sandra Rief recommends use of color for teaching math to ADHD students. She believes that the use of color helps improve retention and grabs the child’s attention. Ms. Rief also recommends color highlighting to avoid careless mistakes in math.
  • In The Encyclopedia of Memory and Memory Disorders by Carol Turkington and Joseph Harris, the authors state that intensely visualizing colors can help in development of visual memory.
  • Inna Segal, in her book The Secret Language of Colors, states that certain colors like Lemon and Mauve can actually improve your memory and ability to concentrate. Lemon, she says, is a color of warmth and intellect; it fuels the brain to help you make decisions and also improve ability to concentrate. Mauve creates peace and tranquility, reduces imbalances in eyes and ears and also boosts brain power and memory.

Colors and meanings- a recap

Since color impacts memory, it is important to know what different colors mean or symbolize.

  • Red- Red means passion, anger, danger, vigor etc
  • Green- money, eco-friendly, peace, environmentally friendly, jealousy, envy, fertility and healing
  • Blue-Peace, cool/cold, knowledge, trust
  • Black-mourning, death, evil, negativity, elegance
  • Purple- spirituality, wisdom, intelligence, royalty
  • Yellow-clarity, energy, freshness, intelligence
  • Pink- girly, feminine, playful, romantic
  • Orange- warmth, joy, balance, freedom, expression, success

Which colors boost memory?

According to a study in University of British Columbia, certain colors can help with concentration, attention span and hence facilitate memory retention and learning. The study concluded that Red and Blue colors are the best for enhancing cognitive skills and improving brain function. Red was much better than blue as far as detail oriented tasks, and memory retention were concerned by as much as 31%. The researchers also concluded that thanks to red being the color of teacher’s pen, stop sign and danger; it helped students avoid mistakes. Students invariably tend to pay careful attention in order to avoid wrong answers since red heightened their attention and made them more vigilant naturally.

Here are some tips on how to use colors to study well and boost memory

Tips to use colors to study

Use highlighters/crayons

Highlighters help mark text in books so you can quickly read the important points. They are perfect to use with typed notes. Make use of fine tipped pens and smudge-proof products.

Get an overview of all your colors

When using different colors to study, make a side by side representation of the colors you have on hand. This will give you an idea as to how the color looks on paper and you can then choose the one you like the best, which are most intense and pigmented. Select bold colors based on the color of the text.

Use color theory

Color theory can help you color code your studies. A basic principle of color theory is that opposite colors on the color wheel create strongest contrast. Thus, you can use orange and blue or red and green or yellow and dark/navy blue to highlight complex notes.

Restrict the use of colors to only 2 colors

Do not use more than 2 colors when studying complex notes. Two colors along with your main text color like black or blue is enough to highlight important notes.

Assign chosen colors to reference information

For example, you can assign yellow to definitions, red to articles or formulae or sub topics etc. The key is to use colors that can help you easily find all the information on one page.

Do not overdo things

Avoid overdoing colors. To many different colors will overwhelm your brain.

We hope these tips help you use colors to enhance memory.


How Your Child Learns Best: Brain-Friendly Strategies You Can Use By Judy Willis

Build a Better Brain – Live a Better Life By Clive Cable