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Numerous studies have shown that memory is enhanced for emotionally negative and positive information relative to neutral information. We examined whether emotion-induced memory enhancement is influenced by low-level perceptual attributes such as color. Because in everyday life red is often used as a warning signal, whereas green signals security, we hypothesized that red might enhance memory for negative information and green memory for positive information. To capture the signaling function of colors, we measured memory for words standing out from the context by color, and manipulated the color and emotional significance of the outstanding words. Making words outstanding by color strongly enhanced memory, replicating the well-known von Restorff effect. Furthermore, memory for colored words was further increased by emotional significance, replicating the memory-enhancing effect of emotion. Most intriguingly, the effects of emotion on memory additionally depended on color type. Red strongly increased memory for negative words, whereas green strongly increased memory for positive words. These findings provide the first evidence that emotion-induced memory enhancement is influenced by color and demonstrate that different colors can have different functions in human memory.


Institute for Positive Psychology and Education

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Journal Article

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