March 28, 2012 at 8:40 AM ET
A quick glimpse of the color green appears to get a person's creative juices flowing, suggests a new study.
German researchers found that when people glanced at the color green for two seconds before doing a creative task, it boosted their creative output compared to briefly looking at other colors, including white, grey, red, and blue.
In the study, which is published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, scientists gave 69 men and women two minutes to write down as many uses as possible for a tin can. Then a coder rated each idea for its creativity and cleverness.
Before beginning the creativity test, half were shown a green rectangle and the other half saw a white rectangle.
Participants who saw green before the task produced more creative ideas than those who saw white. The "green effect" as the researchers dubbed it, was also observed in creativity challenges that pitted the color against those seeing a quick flash of grey, red, or blue.
Does seeing green fuel creativity because it reminds starving artists, musicians, and writers of cash and the need to pay their bills, so the wheels in their head start turning?
That's not how study author Dr. Stephanie Lichtenfeld explains it. She suggests the link between green and creativity is that it's a signal of growth. Not only physical growth as in growing plants, but also psychological growth.
"Green may serve as a cue that evokes the motivation to strive for improvement and task mastery, which in turn may facilitate growth," says Lichtenfeld, an assistant professor of psychology at Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich, Germany.
So, if a writer has writer's block should that person fix their eyes on something green for a few seconds, and then get back to work? "The effect seems to be subtle," points out Lichtenfeld. The intentional use of green as a means of being creative remains an open question, she explains.
The green shown in the experiments matched the shade seen in nature, in growing plants or in a meadow. Since this was the first study to find a link between green and creativity, it's unclear whether lime green or blue-green, for instance, may also fuel inventiveness.
And it's not yet known if seeing green for a longer time than two seconds makes the creativity boost stronger or weaker.
For now, studies have shown that other colors have been linked with psychological function. Red has been suggestive of romance, caution, and anger, while blue has been connected with calmness.
Perhaps a quick flash of green reminds the brain to "go" or suggests success in our minds.
"Even very subtle stimuli, such as color, can influence our motivation, cognition, and behavior," says Lichtenfeld.