I’ll take the blue room

Jonah Lehrer, in “building a thinking room,” writes in the Wall Street Journal that architecture is about more than appearance. Psychologists are studying the effect of space and color on creativity and performance.

Put white-collar workers in a building with low ceilings and loud air conditioners, take their blood pressure and check the level of stress-related hormones, and they will be more stressed than the guys with open cubicles and sky lights—even when they are not at work.

I understand this. I used to work in an office with no windows at all and when I got out at the end of the day I had no idea what the weather would be like. And with the variable climate in Michigan, I was often in for a nasty surprise.

I was also dizzy, disoriented and, well, mean. But then again I’m not sure it had anything to do with the windows.

But the research is convincing. A couple of years ago, psychologists at the University of British Columbia tested 900 subjects in different color rooms. Here is Lehrer’s summary:

The differences were striking. Test-takers in the red environments, were much better at skills that required accuracy and attention to detail, such as catching spelling mistakes or keeping random numbers in short-term memory.

Though people in the blue group performed worse on short-term memory tasks, they did far better on tasks requiring some imagination, such as coming up with creative uses for a brick or designing a children’s toy. In fact, subjects in the blue environment generated twice as many “creative outputs” as subjects in the red one.

Apparently red makes us think of stop signs and danger, so we are more careful. And blue makes us think of openness and sky. Except, of course, in China where red stands for prosperity and good luck.

Another study showed that people in rooms with high ceilings made more connections between unrelated stuff like chess and basketball. I’m not sure why this is important. Basketball, that is.

But I am going to put the student newspaper staff at the university in a small red room with low ceilings right away.

Me? I’ll take the blue pill. Uh, room. Or at least the one with a high ceiling.

We have an 18 foot ceiling in our kitchen, with sky lights. And a red wall. That should be about perfect.

Creative people who can spell.

3 thoughts on “I’ll take the blue room”

  1. The effect of colors on a person’s mood and output has always interested me. So, I enjoyed this post. The kitchen sounds like a good idea! 🙂

  2. I’m sad that there’s no mention of my dream room– a deep, thick, chocolate brown. With creamy accents and a little bright greeny-blue thrown in– that funny green that kitchens were done in the early 20th century…

    As it is– I looked up to see what’s in front of me and paled at the thought. It’s pretty bland. And I’m sitting under the soffet (sp?) so there’s the added feeling of a lowered roof from the rest of the room. Can I paint the wall behind the monitor?

    At my last job (the one that I described at the end as “a pit full of dysfunctional vipers”) the last boss that I liked working for (there was the other, obviously disliked one at the very end) painted the director’s office as his first act of business. His wife and I covered up the beige and tan walls with his preferred colors of peacock and camel. The peacock was a deep, deep hue. The camel was warm and caramely. A lot of people hated it. I loved it.

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