The Power of Color

"Green is the color of optimism."

A friend of mine (an English professor who teaches writing and composition to freshmen students) tells me this on a regular basis.

From my perspective, he has an amazing job - a tenured faculty member. But trying to teach first-year students to write well is grueling, demanding. He cares enough about his students to offer personalized critiques that could actually help them become better writers - possibly not great writers, but at least better.

For his first few years, he wasn't seeing great results from all his efforts. The students didn't seem to "get" the basics of great writing, and sometimes, they even regressed. My friend took this personally - he's the professor, they're the young, unformed students. It's his job to develop their raw talent into something more tangible and sustaining.

Then, an insight: my friend explained he'd been marking up his students' writing assignments with the customary red pen. One day he realized students literally shrank in their seats when they looked over their returned assignments, covered in red-ink notes, edits and corrections.

More to the point, most of them didn't follow up his critiques with the kind of vigor (or even competence) he expected from his potentially grade-improving advice.

So he threw out his red pens. On a hunch, he switched to green ink but proceeded to make the same types of edit notes.

Something remarkable happened, he says. The students stopped shrinking away from his feedback. They began to dive in, reading the same type of critical comments and technical corrections as before, but with more engagement. Even enthusiasm.

When he asked them why the change in attitude, the general consensus was that the green-inked critiques were simply more approachable. Less confrontational; less aggressive. More personable.

I've listened to my friend tell this story over and over, and always took it with a grain of salt.

My point was that he probably changed his fundamental approach to critiquing the assignments, and therefore become more approachable and less confrontational.

But I might be wrong.

According to "Why We Love Beautiful Things," author Lance Hosey reveals new research that says simply looking at the color green "can boost creativity and motivation."

In short, we humans associate the color green - in nearly every form - with vegetation, abundance, and nourishment.

And therefore, safety, security, and contentment.

To take the research findings even further, the color green is such a fundamentally positive affirmation to our species that it can speed patient recovery, increase worker productivity, and boost information retention in students.

So, now I have to go apologize to my friend. All this time I thought he was being quirky. It turns out he was being incredibly profound.

Cross-posted from