Not always a matter of context: direct effects of red on arousal but context-dependent moderations on valence

Abstract

The arousal theory of color proposes that red is associated with arousal. Research on the color-in-context theory, in turn, states that the context in which red is perceived influences its valence-related meaning and behavioral responses to it. This study faces and integrates these theories by examining the influence of red on both arousal and valence perceptions of test-relevant and neutral stimuli, rendering a color 2 (red vs. blue) × context 2 (test vs. neutral) between-subjects design. Participants rated different pictures regarding their arousal and valence component, respectively. In line with the assumptions of both theories, red increased arousal perceptions of stimuli irrespective of their valence but a context × color interaction was found for valence perceptions: for participants viewing test-relevant pictures, red increased their perceptions of negativity compared to neutral pictures. The present study shows that both theories are actually compatible when differentiating the arousal and valence component.

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