Investigating the importance of colors

As you know, we continue working on the project Science of the City #2. Although the first phase of the video contest finished early this year, we are still receiving videos as a result of different collaborations we have established with international institutions, in countries such as Croatia or Netherlands. Moreover, we began with the second phase of the project, in which we aim to establish a bridge between participants and scientists.

On Friday April 5, we were at the Institut Lluís de Requesens, Molins de Rei, Barcelona, holding a workshop for students and researchers. The students from this school participated in the 2nd edition of Science of the City video contest with several videos: ‘Temperature Changes‘, ‘A Flood of Signals‘, ‘Public Services at Molins‘ and ‘Boredom at the Institute‘. The lattest was one of the winners of this edition, in which the students questioned the importance of building design in schools, particularly of the colors used in classrooms and corridors, and how this influences the attention span of the students during the classes. This seemed to us an extremely interesting question and thus, with the help of the Atelier des Jours à Venir, we tried to contact experts on perception and cognition.

Two researchers from the Donders Institute (Nilmegen, Netherlands), Dr. Guillaume Sescousse (Cognitive Control- Perception, Action and Control) and Dra. Mathilde Bonnefond (Neuronal Oscillations- Brain Networks and Neuronal Communication) accepted our invitation and came to Molins de Rei to join the workshop.

In this first session we wanted to, in one hand, create a link between the students and the researchers and, on the other hand, find ways to translate the scientific concepts of the winning video to questions that could be interesting for our invited researchers to follow up at their labs. For that we conducted several activities focused on the topics of learning, attention, color,…

We began with a first exercise in order to ‘break the ice’ within the room: we arranged ourselves according to the color of our eyes, from the lightest to the ones darkest. Then, we asked the students to, in post-its of different colors, write down whatever these colors remind them of: peace, joy, euphoria,… Then, the task was to sort the post-its by topics. Once re-ordered, we could conclude that unconsciously we associate different colors with specific issues or feelings.

The students explained what had motivated them to make the video, and the scientists, their research projects

The students hypothesized that the boring environment of the corridors and classrooms of their school could be one of the reasons for the lack of interest and attention during classes. The neuroscientist Guillaume Sescousse explained how he and his team study the reward processing and risky decision-making, in both healthy and psychiatric disorders’ conditions. Dra. Mathilde Bonnefond explained that part of her work in the lab focus on trying to understand how our brain processes the information and how the different brain regions communicate with each other during the different cognitive processes, such as during visual processing under various levels of attention. To illustrate how the colors can interfere with the learning processes and with our ability to maintain our focus levels, the researchers challenged the students with different exercises. One of them was to try to memorize the maximum number of words during 2 minutes. Each set of words was presented in different background colors: red, blue and gray. At the end of the game, we all could confirm that, as shown in scientific studies, the colors influence our memory and focus capabilities. The red creates tension and make us more focused, opposite to blue, which relaxes us. We usually associate blue colors with creative environments, however, this means a reduced ability to retain information.

At the end of the workshop, we asked the students to re-think the questions and ideas raised in the winning video. We wanted to finish the session with a narrow set of questions on the topic. Here are some of the issues raised: Do colors equally affect people of different ages? Does the way we perceive colors depend on the time of the day or season? Does color affects differently people of different cultures? What colors should be chosen for the different school spaces? What happens in the brain during color perception?


Now, of all the questions and issues raised during this morning, students have to choose one, the one they would like to explore with the help of the researchers. The next workshop is already scheduled: on July we all meet again! We will keep you informed!

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