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Color Impact on Short-term Memory and Long-term Learning of High School Students

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Abstract

This quasi-experimental study has evaluated a hypothesis that states that the use of color in instructional strategies enhances high school students’ short-term memory recall of new material and long-term learning. This problem was researched because previous peer-reviewed studies have demonstrated a positive correlation between color and memory performance on all ages, except for high school students (i.e. 14 to 18 years old). Following this method, with the use of a pre-questionnaire, it can be stated that this hypothesis is true, given that the collected data has calculated a statistical significance in the mean difference of correctly recalled words for the colored group, in comparison to the control group that received the black and white treatment. Evidently, the utilized design has efficiently allowed this study to contribute to the targeted gap on high school students, as it yielded positive results that evaluate a causal relationship between color and memory recall. Therefore, the new understanding concludes that teaching methods that implement color have the potential to increase memory performance of this age group, in comparison to the use of black and white text.

Introduction

As a child, every person develops a unique sense of different concepts based on the distinctive perception of color that they are presented in. The current research has placed a great emphasis on the importance of color in learning environments for preschoolers and elementary-grade students. As was noted by Saul Wagner (n.d.), scientific studies support the idea that the discomfort, attention loss, and behavioral problems faced by children are often the result of the habitat they occupy most frequently. This principle explains the reasoning behind the use of colored text and images by teachers to create a positive atmosphere for students in elementary schools. The psychological impact of color on the human learning process is not diminished as people evolve into adolescence; nevertheless, the most common instructional strategies that are utilized in high schools overlook the importance of color in learning, simply presenting the information in black and white ink.

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In addition to encoding lessons in black and white, teachers choose to rely heavily on textbooks without the use of a variety of media. Therefore, classroom lectures in many schools are not modeled to properly present new information, which thoroughly impacts the way students perceive information. Specifically, color has the ability to increase emotional arousal by focusing cognitive attention on learning, while reducing external distractions (Huchendorf, 2007). Hence short-term memory recall is significantly higher when items are perceived in color, in comparison to learning through black and white textbooks. This aspect becomes a major problem, as ineffective teaching has negatively impacted students’ full potential to learn new material most efficiently. This was demonstrated by a peer-reviewed study that explored factors contributing toward effective learning in primary schools and discovered that teachers do not employ a variety of instructional methods and do not prepare any media for use (Mupa & Chinooneka, 2015). This study aligns with Huchendorf on the vital impact of the ability to focus on short-term memory recall, as Mupa & Chinooneka have recorded a zero percent passing rate since 2013 in the investigated facility, as a result of a lack of media. Therefore, both studies emphasize the importance of colors in designing lesson objectives on memory performance.

As was aforementioned, colors have the ability to increase the chances of environmental stimuli to be encoded, stored, and retrieved successfully, which enhances the learning that occurs since early childhood. Following this statement, researchers have discovered that subjects performed five to ten percent better on standardized pattern recognition tests when they were administered in color, rather than black and white (Meacham, 2015). This finding explains a low passing rate recorded by Mupa & Chinooneka, by illustrating the efficiency of color on students’ performance in school activities. Moreover, it suggests that high school students receive a limited opportunity to learn to their full potential, as associating an event or object with color increases the short-term memory recall. This concept supports a peer-reviewed study that analyzed poor performance in classrooms, discovering that it is not the aggregated sum of resources that contribute to the levels of efficiency. “More is not necessarily better but management capacity of teachers and how well they use resources in the classroom”, as was illustrated by Fernandez (2014). Therefore, it can be implied that a low passing rate occurs even in wealthy areas with schools having access to numerous resources since the strategies utilized to find a function for these materials have a greater impact on teaching. Concluding from the mentioned sources, color carries an essential role in the learning processes during all stages of life, which emphasizes the cruciality of studying its connection to memory, as a color has the ability to enhance education programs.

Previous research establishes a strong correlation between color and memory on the elderly, as well as on students in middle school and college. Nevertheless, based on the conducted research, there is a clear gap in the impact of color on memory retention of high school students for both the short and long term. Therefore, this paper has determined the necessity to evaluate the role of color in adolescent’s life, responding to the research question: “How does the use of color association enhance the short-term memory recall of high school students?”. Leading from the current studies, an assertion can be made that inefficient instructional methods that avoid the use of color in learning processes reduce high school students’ short-term memory recall of new material.

Literature Review

The purpose of this literature review is to bring to light the extreme lack of research on the impact of color on short- and long-term memory recall of high school students. The fundamental difference between the two terms consists of duration (i.e. 15 to 30 seconds), and capacity, which refers to how many items short-term storage can hold (Cowan, 2008). Some measures of memory in short-term that seem routine and do not correlate well with cognitive aptitudes, and working memory seems more attention-demanding and does correlate well with these aptitudes. Professor of Psychological Sciences at the University of Missouri, explains that it occurs due to decay and feature interference that requires the right association to cause the retention of that memory. Therefore, having colors signify the material illustrated on images, it will be possible to properly encode the message in the brains of high school students that will later reduce the decay and influence a faster and more accurate response from the students (Cowan, 2008).

When evaluating the impact of color on memory performance, it is essential to take into consideration several variables. An undergraduate student in the department of psychology, Huchendorf, has conducted a study that brought up to light the importance of color selection when testing its effect on memory. While his methodology failed to demonstrate a significant difference between color and memory, Hunchendorf (2007) discovered “…exposure to warm colors will not have such an impact and therefore might not cause enough arousal to trigger the corresponding increase in memory.” This evidence explains that the amount of exposure to color is important to achieving a more significant increase in memory retention. However, because all participants were enrolled in an introductory psychology course, the ability to generalize results is limited, as students in more advanced classes might have a different performance, which impacts the concluded results. Nevertheless, the same results were discovered by another peer-reviewed study, which concluded: “…warm types of colors such as yellow, red and orange have been found to have a greater effect on attention compared to the cool type of colors like brown and gray” (Dzulkifli & Mustafar 2013). In other words, both studies have demonstrated that warm colors have a greater impact on attention, which introduces a crucial variable that has to be accounted for when considering the color impact on short-term memory recall.

Comparing back to Huchendorf, color selection is vital in evaluating the effect of color on memory. A postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California with his team conducted peer-reviewed research, which studied whether working memory maintenance exhibits color-specific biases. Based on their findings, they stated that some color targets do tend to elicit responses that are more distributed than others and with means distant from the target, responses that would look like guesses under a high-precision, unbiased assumption applied to all colors equally (Bae et.al, 2015). This was essential, as the main consequence of visual working memory maintenance is the amplification of category-related biases and stimulus-specific variability that originate in perception. This idea further connects to Dzulkifli & Mustafar (2013), as they also demonstrated the same effect of color on memory: “…the level of arousal evoked by environmental stimuli can have a significant effect on memory performance in whether the short-term or long-term memory storage.” Providing this evidence, both studies imply that people experience different emotions depending on the presented color that aids them with memorization of an event. However, a major limitation of these findings is a lack of investigation of specific colors that work more efficiently, which disables other researchers to use this information further in their study.

Considering specific colors that affect memory, research must analyze other variables to truly demonstrate an explicit relationship. When it comes to the psychological impact of colors on a human brain, there are various defined effects that they tend to have on it. For instance, a Professor of Cognitive Neuropsychology conducted a quasi-experiment to address a critical role for active internal maintenance of a color word in producing the working memory Stroop effect by asking participants to perform a color identification task following display of either a congruent or incongruent color word. Through his research, he explained that the poorer memory performance on incongruent trials suggests that the costly attentional filtering process on those trials could have diverted attentional resources away from the active maintenance of information in working memory, leaving less attention available to refresh the memory representation. This aspect emphasizes that “…the reciprocal impacts occurred because an attention-demanding filtering process was needed during incongruent trials, to resolve stimulus- and response-level conflicts from the recently acquired information.” (Pan, 2019). The limitation of this study, however, involves the sample, as it was taken from the same institution, not to mention that it consisted of solely 22 students, which therefore may not be representative enough to generalize the findings. It connects to Radvansky et.al, that has a perspective of a Professor of Cognitive and Behavioral Psychology; Research Health Specialist in the MIRECC the VA Palo Alto, by explaining that “…the competition between the perceptual and synesthetic colors disrupted the ability to effectively encode and/or retrieve the target words.” (Radvansky et.al, 2011). Meaning that if a perceived color doesn’t match the synesthetic color, the person will fail to encode the conveyed message, thereby becoming a major factor in this inquiry.

One of the main implications of a study conducted by Radvansky et.al (2011) can be explained through the gathered research that the finding of a dramatically reduced false memory effect for the synesthetes argues against any account that relies exclusively on a passive spreading activation. While it has a limitation that the study does not extend to and explain the absence of a von Restorff effect for the synesthetes, it connects with an idea analyzed by Sanocki & Sulman. As they stated, “…high color-similarity palettes led to significantly higher performance, producing increases in estimated memory capacity, in terms of color units, of 26% to 45%” (Sanocki & Sulman 2011). Therefore implying that similar colors played a huge role in this process, compared to a different color palette, which resulted in a significantly lower rate of retention. Even though it carries vital information for this study, it also demonstrated the argument that similar studies have been done, but on college students, therefore highlighting the gap on high school students.

Evaluating all previous research on the impact of color on memory, it’s relevant to conclude that most of it were done on college students. A Professor of the Department of Educational Psychology and the Chair for Personality and Educational Psychology at the University of Munich conducted a quasi-experiment to capture the signaling function of colors by measuring memory for words standing out from the context by color and manipulating the color and emotional significance of the outstanding words. Moreover, this study demonstrates the same effect of specific colors on memory as Huchendorf and Dzulkifli & Mustafar by stating that “…viewing red can have effects that are typically observed in threatening situations, such as a decreased heart rate variability… However, studies on physiological reactions to different colors suggest that green is associated with pleasant, low-arousal affective states” (Kuhbandner & Pekrun, 2013). The main limitation of this research was its sample, as it consisted of only 48 students from the same university that are required to participate in a study to complete a course; which reduces randomization, and therefore, the representation of the entire population. Yet, it concluded that making words outstanding by color strongly enhances memory, replicating the well-known von Restorff effect.

Singing, S., Professor of Perceptual Psychology, conducted a study that was strongly supported by Olurinola, O. (2015), Professor of Science and Technology Education, as both studies provide evidence supporting the idea that color has a positive impact on short-term memory recall. More specifically, Singg (2017) stated, “…the cool colors such as blue might enhance women’s learning and warm colors such as yellow might enhance men’s learning”. It’s crucial because it provides a possible variable that needs to be looked at to maximize the efficiency of color in producing a higher retention rate from learned material in high school students. These studies are contradicted by research conducted by Haynes, E., an undergraduate Honors College Researcher in Cognitive Neuroscience. Haynes issued opposing evidence, as she concluded that there is no significant relationship between scenario color and spacing and the accuracy of a participant’s short-term recall memory. One of the major limitations of her study was that she only considered the short-term memory, without looking at the effect of color and groupings on the long-term memory, which could demonstrate different findings. Overall, all of these studies explicitly prove the need for my research, as they emphasize the gap on high school students by providing similar research completed on college pupils.

Postdoctoral fellow at the National Cancer Institute and Professor of Child Psychology argued for an alternative perspective on the positive impact of color on memory. Conducted a true experiment with Russian and English-speaking participants to observe how they rated the color of blue/grey eyes perceptually and from memory. Through their study, they discovered the following: “Russian speakers tended to use both grey and light-blue (i.e., goluboy) terms and English speakers were more likely to use blue terms” (Lowry & Bryant, 2018). Moreover, they introduced that “…if a stimulus is normally described by a population in a certain way (e.g., blue eyes), it does have an influence on how the population remembers it that is resistant to change; however, if a stimulus is not associated in that way (e.g., tiles can be blue or orange), recall of that stimulus can be influenced more easily” (Lowry & Bryant, 2018). Therefore, the data shows that the language is predominant to the color of an element since depending on people’s prior knowledge, every language will allow them to remember that element in a specific way, which could differ from those that speak a different language. However, the limitation of the study was that their tested sample solely consisted of Russian and English speakers. Hence the results may not be necessarily applied to people that speak other languages. It further connects back to Haynes, as both studies have demonstrated a false effect of color on short-term memory recall, thereby providing alternative perspectives to the argument of the use of color association to enhance the short-term memory recall of high school students.

The importance of completing research on the positive impact of colors on short-term memory recall of high school students is emphasized by a Professor of Engineering Psychology and a Professor of Otorhinolaryngology, as they stated that color enhances recognition memory by conferring an advantage during encoding and by strengthening the encoding-specificity effect (Spence et al, 2006). Moreover, they showed that because the pattern of performance was similar at all exposure durations, and form and color are processed in different areas of the cortex, the results imply that color must be bound as an integral part of the representation at the earliest stages of processing. Therefore, it justifies the need to select specific colors and provides a clear solution to the problem analyzed in this study of instructional strategies that are utilized by teachers, which are limited to black and white textbooks without the use of a variety of media, impacting the short-term memory recall of high school students. Additionally, it replies to the concepts analyzed by Mupa & Chinooneka through the evaluation of all possible factors that were listed in their study as possible ways to increase the passing rate of students. Furthermore, it connects back to Šmajdek. & Selan, Olurinola, Singing, and Kuhbandner & Pekrun, all evaluate the positive impact of the use of color on memory retention. Overall, they provide evidence for the need to study whether color affects high school students’ memory recall to enhance the learning processes, as well as highlights the gap on high school students by studying mainly college students. As was explained by Huchendorf (2007): “As compared to K-12 studying, a college-level studying requires more time without guidance from others…” By answering the question: “How does the use of color association enhance the short-term memory recall of high school students?”, this paper will be able to determine whether the use of color association enhances the short-term memory recall of high school students will introduce new evidence to existing research and provide a valuable solution to ineffective teaching strategies.

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