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2/25/2010 in Headline News Bookmark and Share

York study finds Olympic athletes may seem faster in red

Wearing red at the Olympics may give an athlete an easy advantage, according to a York University study that shows perceptions of motion are subconsciously affected by colour.

“All things being equal between two figure skaters – including their actual speed on the ice – the judges will perceive a skater in red is moving with greater speed than a skater in blue, and may reward the skater in red with higher marks,” says Mazyar Fallah, a professor in the School of Kinesiology & Health Science in York’s Faculty of Health.

 
Above: The 2010 Canadian Olympic team in their red uniforms. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The study, conducted by Fallah and co-author Illia Tchernikov in York’s Centre for Vision Research, was published today by the the Public Library of Science open access peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE.

Their research on visual processing found that people’s eyes more quickly follow a red target on a computer screen more quickly than a green, yellow or especially a blue target.

“In sports, the outcome of a competition is supposed to depend on the abilities of the players, rather than the colours they are wearing,” says Fallah. “However, our research shows it may make sense to wear red in a sport such as figure skating, in which you want to be perceived as quick. In contrast, it may be best to wear another colour in a sport in which a referee is handing out penalties.”

The finding that there is a colour hierarchy that automatically guides the selection of what someone will focus on has implications for many sports such as figure skating and gymnastics in which speed may be perceived by a judge rather than measured in milliseconds, Fallah says. It may also be important for other fields such as advertising, in which capturing attention is paramount, and in designing human-computer interfaces that are effective, he said.

Left: Canadian figure skating champion and Olympic competitor Joannie Rochette. Photo: Wikimedia Commons. 

Five subjects took part in the study, with each completing about a thousand tests. Each participant automatically focused on targets on the screen and all produced the same colour hierarchy, choosing red targets first, followed by green, yellow and blue. This suggests, says Fallah, that the colour hierarchy is inherent, either because of evolution – red is the colour of blood, whereas blue is the colour of the sky – or as a result of experience − red stop signs and traffic signals indicate danger.

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