Yellow Makes You Smarter? Or Not…

Mar 23, 2019

This week has been quite exciting!

I started this week by completing a replication of a study that linked academic performance with the color of the surrounding environment. The study, conducted by Al-Ayash and his colleagues, found that students performed better on a standardized reading comprehension test when in a yellow room as compared to rooms of other colors.  

What?! How in the world can color impact how well we do on a test? It’s become abundantly clear to me that color is associated with different emotions, but academic performance is a different ballgame.

A lack of funds and access has forced me to improvise on two elements of the study: using tri-fold boards instead of whole rooms and limiting my study to just yellow and white boards. Thus, the question I investigate changes slightly; does yellow really improve student performance? I used white as a control group because, when I conducted my initial survey, most respondents (>85%) indicated that they did the majority of their academic work in white rooms.

This next paragraph will go over some technical details of the study – feel free to skip it if you just want the results of the research. I conducted the study on two sets of students: set one is the “middle-schoolers,” students between 7th and 8th grade. Set two is the “high-schoolers,” who are between 11th and 12th grades. I chose these specific grade groups because they were the most accessible to me. Set one was given two passages from a California standardized middle-school ELA exam; each passage consisted of 5 questions. The passages were meant to reflect the same level of difficulty. One passage was administered under a white environment and the other under a yellow environment. As for set two, they were given the same test Al-Ayash administered on college students in his study. This test consisted of two passages from the 2002 SAT administration. Again, the passages were meant to reflect the same level of difficulty. I analyzed the results of the sets separately and randomized which passage was designated to be taken in a yellow or white environment to reduce error. Of course, error is a highly present element in this particular study, as the tests may not have been of perfectly even difficulty, my use of tri-folds as a replacement for a whole room may not have been adequate, and I selected participants based on accessibility to me, potentially biasing the results. My total sample size for set one was 32 and 27 for set two.

Results! Drumroll…..

My analysis revealed a mild correlation between the yellow environment and stronger performance on the test for both sets of students.

Set + Environment Color Mean Performance (x/5)
Set 1: White 4.311
Set 1: Yellow 4.430
Set 2: White 3.945
Set 2: Yellow 4.05


A few things are immediately visible from the data. First, BISV students are super smart. In the original study, the mean score was just below 3.4 (and that was with college students!). Both sets of students exceeded that average by quite a bit. Second, high school students in set 2 had a bit of a harder time with the questions on the SAT than middle schoolers in set 1 had with the ELA test. That is, of course, to be expected as questions on the SAT are presumably much more difficult.

I came away from this study with a feeling of doubt. I still felt that there was no way that color could really impact the average score of students on a test. My results lack conclusivity; due to a relatively small sample size and a variety of potential errors as described above, it’s unclear whether academic performance is impacted by environmental color or not. The fact that a correlation even exists for both groups is pretty fascinating, however.

Okay, this has become an excessively long blog post so I’ll just briefly touch on the other activities I did this week and go further in detail in next week’s post.

I spent some time learning about the pen tool in Adobe Illustrator. My external advisor has suggested this tool as the one I should primarily use to represent string on my digital canvas. The pen tool, although seemingly simple to use, is surprisingly hard to maneuver. I’ll be practicing with it next week as well and hopefully I’ll have it mastered by then.

And finally, I read about half of Part 3 of Design and Composition by Nathan Goldstein. This chapter discusses the value of shape to composition. Shapes suggest form and motion in ways that simple lines may not be able to achieve. Remember the shapes you learned in kindergarten? Triangles, squares, circles… these are all geometric shapes which produce an effect of “sharply focused, fast-moving” energy. On the other hand, organic shapes are the irregular shapes often found in nature. They rarely possess the angularity and evenness that geometric shapes have. I anticipate my work to contain mostly geometric shapes; those will likely fit best with the more contemporary look that BISV has.

It’s been an eventful week – I’m looking forward to more! Thanks for reading 🙂

2 Replies to “Yellow Makes You Smarter? Or Not…”

  1. Abby W. says:

    this is actually really cool. petition to change basis colors to yellow and just yellow. are there any studies on other colors like grey red or anything?

    1. Samrit M. says:

      I would sign that petition! Yes, that study did analyze academic performance in red and gray environments – students did poorly under gray and red was about the average.

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