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Science Project  
The Effect of Color on Memory Retention of Items on a List

Researched by Mary L.


The purpose of this experiment was to determine if colored versus black and white printed words affects human memory. 

I became interested in this idea when I was watching an advertisement on television and wondered if they used bright colors for a certain reason (since most commercials are in color instead of black and white).

The information collected from this experiment can be used to help salespeople know if they should use different colors versus black and white.  Also the information I gain can help teachers, scientists, or anybody who is trying to teach or learn something.
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My hypothesis is that the colored words will be remembered better than those in black and white. 
My hypothesis is based on a book called Memory by Alan Baddeley that says, “Memory for pictures has been shown to be substantially better than memory for words.”  Since most pictures are in color, I think that color will affect human memory.  I also base it on the fact that most advertisements are in color, instead of black and white. 
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The constants in this study were:
1. The place to take the test
2. The amount of time to take the test
3. The content of the test
4. The amount of time to look at list #1
5. The amount of time to check off words on list #2
6. The passage of time from looking at the words until taking the test

The manipulated variable was color versus black and white printed words subjects were to read and remember. 

The responding variable was the number of words the subjects remembered after one hour. 

To measure the responding variable I will use a black and white list of words that has all 20 correct answers plus 20 new words to see which they remembered better. 
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50-60 6th grade children, half boys and half girls
30 List #1’s.  20 words, half black and white, half color.
50-60  List #2’s.  40 words all in black and white.  Half of the words  from list one, half of them new words.  On the left of each word there is a check-off box.  Each person has to check off 20 words they can remember from the first list. 
10 #2 pencils
10 Desks
2 Answer sheets that showall of the words that were actually on list one, one for black and white words, one for color.
2 Instructor s scripts for giving directions to each group.  One for before list #1, one for before list #2.
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1. Create all of the materials (list one and two). 

  •  Gather the words for the lists by using a spelling book from a grade lower than the grade your subjects are in.  (I chose words from a fifth grade spelling list because my subjects were in sixth grade.  I wanted to have words easy enough for all children even those below grade level in reading.) 
  •  Randomly select half the words to print in a bright color.  Randomly colorize a nearly equal number of these as pink, blue, lime, and orange.
  •  Write the instruction script for each group before they begin the experiment. 
2. Get together a small test group: ten people, about five boys and five girls.
3. Have the people sit in the same room away from each other and get comfortable.
4. Read the instructions to the group before they see "List #1".
5. Hand out "List #1".
6. Instruct them to read the list carefully for two minutes.
7. After exactly two minutes, take away the list.
8. Let them leave for one hour before giving them "List #2".
9. After an hour is over, call the subjects back to take "List #2".
10. Give each person "List #2" inside a folder. 
11. Read them the second set of instructions. 
12. Give them two minutes to select their answers on "List #2".
13. After the two minutes are over, gather all of the tests.
14. Check their answers with a key that has all the right answers.
15. Record the information. 
16. Repeat steps 1-16 about six times until all subjects have been tested. 
17. Compare the data to see if they remembered words in color better, or words in black and white. 

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The original purpose of this experiment was to determine if colored versus black and white printed words would affect human memory.

The results of the experiment were that girls remembered colored words better than black and white.  The average number of color printed words that were remembered by girls was 7.5.  The average number of black printed words that were remembered by boys were 6.5. The boys remembered colored words better than black print too.  The average number of color printed words remembered were eight.  The average number of black printed words remembered by boys was 6.9. 


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My hypothesis is that the colored words will be remembered better than those in black and white. 

The results indicate that this hypothesis should be accepted. For both boys and girls averages, colored words were remembered better than those printed in black.  Also, the boys remembered more words than girls did, regardless of color. 

Because of the results of this experiment, I wonder if different specific colors would have a different effect.  I used black, pink, green, blue and red-orange.  I wonder if yellow would be more effective than blue.  Maybe the tones of the colors would make a difference.  Also, I wonder if pictures would be more effective.  I wonder if the time between list viewing would make a big difference.  If I used different words from different grade levels, there might be a difference. Maybe if I had different colors or if the color was brighter, people might remember words better.  Maybe if I waited longer inbetween like one day later or one week later or even one month later.  I wonder if different ages would have different results, like kindergartners, teens, adults and geriatric people all in one group. 

If I were to conduct this project again, I would have taken more pictures to document better my procedures.  I would have also tried to get more subjects and I would have used a longer list of words. 
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 Memory is a very important part of learning.  It is the ability to remember something that has already been learned.  If there wasn’t memory, everything would be "for the first time."


Memory is stored in the parts of the brain called the hippocampus and the thalmus.  They are located inside the cerebral campus, which is one of the three parts of your brain.  The hippocampus curls off the end of the cerebral campus. 

Scientists don’t really know how memory works but they know that it involves a chemical change in the brain’s one trillion neurons.  Every time you learn something new, a new path is made. 

Loss and Improvement

You lose memory either when you don’t think about a thing for a while or when it gets confused.  According to interference theories, when you forget, one memory gets confused with another.  For example, when a friend moves you may think of her old phone number instead of her new one. 

Memory can be improved and exercised by using mnemonical devices. Mnemonical devices are things like rhymes, clues, mental pictures, mind games and other things which help you remember things.  You associate two different thoughts to help you remember, for instance,  plane leaves at two o’clock and plane has two wings.  "ROY G. BIV" is a mnemonical device for the colors of the spectrum: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet. 

The Different Kinds of Memory

The three main kinds of memory are short term, long term and sensory. 

Short term memory help you remember for a short to medium amount of time.  For example, when you remember a phone number, you remember it long enough to go from the phonebook to the phone to dial the number.  If you try very hard, you can transfer something from short term to long term memory. 

Long term memory helps you remember for a long period of time.  It is so powerful that some information stored can last a lifetime.  Some examples are, a friend’s birthday or memories from when you were a child.  Sometimes you can forget a memory, but if you see or hear something familar, you remember it. 

Sensory memory (also known as immediate memory) is for things you hold in your memory for such a short amount of time that most people don’t even know about it.  For example, you may look at a picture, when you turn your head and walk away, you don’t even remember it. 

Most people have visual memory, not to be confused with photographic memory which 5% of young children have.  Photographic memory is very rare in adults. People who have photographic memory can take a picture in their mind and remember exactly what it looked like, or read a book in their mind. 

Other kinds of memory are motor skill and factual.  Motor skills are things like walking and riding a bike.  It makes it possible for you to do them without thinking.  Factual memory is used to remember telephone numbers or the story line of a book. 


Color really isn’t what most people think.  Color is light reflecting off the pigment in the objects you see.  If you’re looking at a shirt, the light bounces off the pigment and hits your eyes and all other colors absorb in.  You see just the color that is reflected.  That’s why you can’t see in the dark. 

The primary colors are blue, yellow and red.  If you mix them you get secondary colors.  For instance, if you combine blue and yellow you get green.  Yellow and red make orange.  When you combine red and blue, the result is purple.  If you mix all of them equally, you get black. 

Every color has an opposite. The opposite of back is white, green is red, orange is blue.  You see the opposite in an after image.  To see an after image you have to stare at a picture for about 30 seconds.  Then stare at a white surface and you see the picture in its opposite color. 

Although blue, red and yellow are primary pigment colors, blue, red and green are the primary colors of light.  If you mix all of the colors of light equally, you get white.  When you mix red and blue you receive a purple light.  If you mix red and green you get a yellow light.  A combination of blue and green results in a blue/green light. 
Also, if you shine a light through a prism, you get the colors of the spectrum: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.  When you shine a light through a prism you separate the colors. 


Memory is the ability to remember something that has already been learned.  When you remember something, it involves chemical change in the brain’s one trillion neurons.  Every time you learn something new, a new path is made.  The three kinds of memory are, long term, short term and sensory.  People loose their memory when one memory gets confused with another.  To improve memory, you can use mnemonical devices like mind games and brainteasers. 

The three primary pigment colors are red blue and yellow.  If you mix them you get purple, orange, green and more.  The three primary colors of light are, blue, red and green.  If you combine them you get white! 
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Baddely, Alan.  "Memory,"  Science and Technology, vol. 10, pg. 674-675

Baddely, Alan.  Your Memory: a Users Guide, United Kingdom: Prion, 1993 

Loftus, Elizabeth F.  "Memory,"  World Book Encyclopedia,  Vol. 13, pg. 392-394 1991

North, Kevin.  Memory, (Online) Available at March 1994

Powledge, Tabitha M.  Your Brain, How You Got it And How it Works  New York, NY: Macmillan, 1994 

Restak, Richard.  "Brain," World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pg. 561-565 1991

Tripathi, Ramesh. and Brenda  "Color,"  World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pg. 816-827, 1991
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