The Effect of Color Versus Black and White Stimuli on the Human Memory
Picture of the student researcher

Researched by Sierra S.


The purpose of this experiment was to determine the effect of colored versus black and white stimuli on the human memory of shapes.

I became interested in this idea when I noticed that colors stand out more than black and white and that books are more interesting when printed in color.

The information gained from this experiment will help teachers to better understand how to use colors to help students learn or memorize things.


My hypothesis was that students would remember more of the shapes printed in black and white versus the shapes printed in color.

I based my hypothesis on a quote from Dr. Patrick Waber, a local medical doctor, who says that subjects will be able to remember the shapes printed in black and white better than the shapes printed in color.
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The constants in this study were:
-The number of test subjects in a group (6)
-The place where the tests were administered 
-The number of shapes on a list (20)
-The shapes 
-The amount of time to study the shapes (4 minutes)
-The amount of time between the time to study and the test (1hour) 
-The amount of time for the test (4 minutes)
-The number of boys in a group (3)
-The number of girls in a group (3)
-The space between subjects while testing (4 feet)

The manipulated variable was whether the shapes were printed in black and white or in color.

The responding variable was the average amount of shapes remembered by the subjects. 

To measure the responding variable I counted the correct answers obtained on the tests administered 1 hour after the lists were first introduced.  Then I calculated the average amount of correct answers.
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30  colored lists of 20 shapes
10 desks 
1 empty room
30 volunteers (15 boys and 15 girls)
30  lists of 40 shapes (all black and white)
 stop watch
container of candy
10 pencils
10   chairs

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1. Make rough copy of list 1.
2. Make rough copy of test.
3. Make 60 copies (30 extra) of a page with 20 different shapes (10 colored, 10 black and white)
4. Obtain 30 volunteers  (10 students in a group)
5. Arrange time with teachers ( each group has 2 scheduled times:  1 for studying the lists and 1 for taking the tests
6. Bring group 1 into an empty room and make sure they are spaced evenly throughout the room
7. Explain instructions to test subjects and answer questions 
8. Pass out one list to each subject
9. Let subjects study lists for 4 minutes. After this time is up, have subjects return lists. 
10. Subjects return to their classroom
11. After 1 hour, bring group 1 back into the empty room to take the tests
12. Give subjects 4 minutes to take the test
-For the test, have the students draw the shapes they remember
13. Now, the subjects can return to their classroom
14. Count the correct answers
-Use answer key
-Record the results
15. Repeat steps 1-13 with groups 2-5
16. Calculate the average amount of correct answers for the 5 groups
17. Go back and check if the shapes remembered were printed in color or black (use the answer key for this as well)
18. Record this information 
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The original purpose of this experiment was to find the effect of color versus black and white stimuli on the human memory of shapes.

The results of the experiment were that the subjects remembered the shapes printed in black and white more than the shapes printed in color.  However, there was only a slight difference.  The overall average for the black and white shapes that were remembered was 9.7 and the overall average for the colored shapes that were remembered was 9.5. 

See the data and graph .


My hypothesis was that the shapes printed in black and white would be remembered more than the ones printed in color.

The results indicate that there was only a very tiny difference between groups. Although subjects did remember more black & white shapes, it is probably not a significant difference. More subjects will be needed to know for sure therefore, my hypothesis should be rejected.

Because of the results of this experiment, I wonder if the brightness or the intesity of the color would have an effect on the human memory.

If I were to conduct this project again I would have larger groups of subjects and more shapes on both lists.

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 Memory plays an important part in our lives. Without memory we would not be capable of learning anything or remembering any skills.  Some experts say that black and white stimuli have a positive effect on the human memory.

 Light travels in waves.  Light is what allows humans to see color.  One way an object or substance gets itís color is when the wave of what is call "white light" is absorbed by an atom or molecule in that object or substance.  In order for light to be visible, the wavelength must be inside the "visible spectrum.  Between violet (the shortest wavelength) and red (the longest wavelength) are all the colors that exist in the visible spectrum.  One theory of light was presented in 1864 by the British physicist, James Clerk Maxwell.  His theory stated that the effect electric fields have on the magnetic fields (and visa-versa) causes light. Maxwell said this was due to the effects of electric and magnetic fields (these are right angles to each other) have on each other is what causes the light waves.

 There are different types of colors. There are "monochromatic spectrum colors", "achromatic colors" and secondary colors.  Monochromatic spectrum colors are colors you canít get by mixing two or more colors for example, red, blue, and yellow. Secondary colors are colors you get by mixing two or more colors, purple and green are examples.  Finally, achromatic colors are colors that go from white to gray to black. 
 Colored light travels in waves.  Each color has itís own wavelength.  The length of the wave is determines the color. This is measured in nanometers.  The height of the wave determines the brightness of the color. 

 How do we see color?  We see color when white light hits an object and the object absorbs some of the colors in the light and the others are reflected.  For instance, a red top gets its color when the red in the white light reflects from it while the rest of the colors are absorbed.  When you see an object that is orange (or any other secondary color) the same thing happens only this time red and yellow light will be reflected, mixing to give the object its color. 

 Color blindness is a condition in which a person cannot see some or all colors properly.  This condition is also known as "daltonism". When a person confuses reds, greens, and yellows they have a type of color blindness called dichromatic vision.  On rare occasions, a person will be unable to distinguish any colors and see only black, gray, and white. This is called achromatic vision.
 Color blindness is un-curable and is mainly inherited.  However it can be caused by injury to the retina of the eye or the optic nerve or certain diseases of the eye. Color blindness occurs in 8 out of 100 men.  However, it occurs in only 1 out of 200 women.

 There are three different types of memory.  Thereís long-term memory, short-term memory, and sensory memory. Each type helps you to remember different things.

 There are three types of long-term memory, all of which are from a different system.  They are Episodic, Semantic, and Procedural.  Episodic memory helps you to remember an event that happened in your past.  For instance, when you first learned to ride a bike.  Semantic helps you to remember information you have previously learned, like math facts and history.  Finally, Procedural helps you remember different procedures such as writing or playing sports.

 Unlike long-term memory, short-term memory does not have different categories.  Short-term memory gives you the ability to remember certain information when it is needed, for example, directions while traveling to a certain place.  The amount of information you are able to "store" in your short-term memory is very limited.  Experts have also found that it is very likely that short-term memory is related to speech.  For instance, the letter combination CDE is less likely to be remembered than the letter combination JSER.  This is because CDE sound very similar.

 Sensory memory is extremely useful.  This type of memory is the reason you are able to remember information sent to your brain from your five senses.  In other words, it allows you to remember sights, tastes, sounds, smells, and how different objects feel.

There are different theories of memory loss. One of the more likely theories is the "Decay Theory".  This theory states that memory loss may be caused when "traces" formed in your memory disappear.   Another likely theory is the "Interference Theory".  This theory says that memory loss may be brought on when other data and skills interfere with old data and skills learned in your past. This causes you to forget the previously learned information. 

There are 3 different theories of learning.  One theory is that learning is the same as developing a habit.  This theory suggests that when a person does something that task becomes a habit; therefore the person has learned something.  Another theory ("cognition" or "the act of knowing") suggests that learning takes place when a person understands something.  The last theory (humanistic) says that a personís need to be creative and good at something is the reason we learn. 

There are many types of learning disabilities. Attention Deficit Disorder (this is when a personís mind wanders and they daydream) is just one. The causes of these disorders are: injury to the brain or nerves that lead to the brain, imbalance of certain chemicals in the body, the lack of nutrients, or ingesting certain chemicals, like paint. A person with learning disabilities may be normal or even above normal as far as intelligence goes.  However they arenít able to use data sent to the brain by their senses as well as a person without learning disabilities.  Learning disabilities may get in the way of things like memory, coordination, concentration or language. 

Some experts say color will make people remember objects better.  Others say black and white will help you remember them more successfully.  A few say it doesnít matter. 

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- Baddeley, Alan. "Memory".  Academic American Encyclopedia. Volume 13.
- Dr. Patrick Waber.  Personal interview.  January  9, 2002.


- "Light and Color"

- Lovell, D.J. "Color". Academic American Encyclopedia.  Volume Cit-Cz

- "Memory" The Kingfisher Science Encyclopedia. Page 438

- Nassau, Kurt. Experimenting with Color. Canada. Franklin Watts, Inc.1999

- Roediger, Henry L. "Memory (psychology) Microsoft Encarta. 2000  ed. CD-ROM. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 2000

- Shields, Dianne. "How We Learn". World Book Encyclopedia. Volume 12. Pages 163-165.

-      Tripathi, Brenda and Ramesh. "Color".  The World Book Encyclopedia. 1999. Volume 4.  Pages 822-827.

-     Young Scientist: Light and Electricity. Chicago, IL. World Book, Inc. 1997.


I would like to thank the following people, for without their help my project would not have been possible.

  •  My family, for being supportive of my project and providing transportation.
  •  All my 6th grade subjects.
  • Mrs. Liner, Mrs. Hostetler, and Mrs. McGarity for allowing their students to miss some of their class to participate in my experiment.
  • Mrs. Helms, for helping print out the list and test.
  •  Mr. Newkirk for giving me useful advice.
  •  All the people who evaluated my project.


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