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  • Faculty of Architecture, University of Moratuwa, Moratuwa, Sri Lanka.


Learning spaces in primary schools worldwide should be designed effectively to develop both creativity (right brain thinking) and logical thinking (left brain thinking) in children while developing their ability to read and write. Colour, being an important element of design, is recognized to have a direct impact on children's psychology and behavior. This investigation looks in to the impact of a child’s long term exposure to his/her class room colour on learning. Participants were 213 students (age-7, gender- male) studying in grade 2 of a primary school in Colombo. These students were studying in identical classrooms (n=6) in the same location yet having walls and furniture coloured in a different colour (orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink) for two consecutive years (grade1 and grade 2). Students and class teachers were given two distinct questionnaires seeking the impacts of exposure to class room colour on student’s performance, learning and behavior. By scrutinizing the preference of subjects studied by each participant, the study established a relationship between certain colors and specific skills of primary grade children. Blue and orange colours demonstrated most favorable impacts on children. Blue colour was found to improve creative artistic skills of a child while orange and yellow colours were identified to support logical rational thinking associated with mathematics. Green and purple colours were found to have a balanced impact on both logical and creative thinking of children. A positive impact of blue colour on school attendance was revealed. Accordingly, the potential of colours to be effectively integrated in creating conducive learning spaces aligned with the learning objectives of primary education was revealed. Keywords: Colour, primary education, class room design, skill development, preference, behavior, Theme: Learning space
Rajapaksha.Upendra, et al (eds), 2016, Building the Future sustainable and resilient environments”:
Proceedings of the 9thInternational Conference of Faculty of Architecture Research Unit (FARU), Uni-
versity of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka, September 09-10, Colombo pp. 000000. ©
A study implemented in a boys primary school, Colombo
1 Department of Architecture, University of Moratuwa, Moratuwa, Sri Lanka
2 Department of Architecture, University of Moratuwa, Moratuwa, Sri Lanka
Primary School is considered the starting point of the learning process of a child and
should be designed with a conducive learning environment aligned with the intended
learning outcomes. Colour being an important visual element of design is recognized to
have a direct impact on a childs psychophysiological and behavioural aspects. This
study investigates the impact of long term exposure to a monochromatic class room on
primary education.
Participants were 213 grade 2 students (age-7, gender- male) of a boys’ primary
school in Colombo studying in identical classrooms (n=6) having a monochromatic inte-
rior (orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink) for two consecutive years (grade1 and
grade 2). Students and class teachers were given two distinct questionnaires on student’s
preference, performance, learning and behavior.
Subject preference of student participants revealed that certain colours support spe-
cific skills of primary grade children. Blue and orange demonstrated most favourable
impacts on their learning and behaviour. Blue was found to enhance creative artistic
skills of children while orange and yellow were identified to support logical thinking
associated with mathematics. Green and purple were found to have a balanced impact on
improving both logical and creative thinking. Orange and green classes were with a ma-
jority of students significantly skilled in learning. A positive impact of blue colour on
school attendance was identified.
Accordingly, the potential of colours in creating conducive learning spaces aligned
with the learning objectives of primary education, was revealed.
Keywords: Primary education, class room colour, skill development, preference,
1. Introduction
Primary School initiates the learning process of a child after being guided by
the parents for nearly five years since their birth. This stage is supposed to
permit kids more freedom to develop thinking creatively and with reasoning
(Wegerif, 2010). Accordingly, being the space where the students spend
most of their time, the learning environments should be conducive in en-
hancing the performance of teaching and learning tasks optimally. As stated
by Grangaard (1995), the enhancement of human performance requires the
optimum environment and that educators must recognize the fact that sur-
roundings are never neutral. This statement portrays the importance of inte-
grating appropriate stimuli in the learning environment.
Children are known to be very sensitive and fond of colours. Consequent-
ly, colours can be a very effective tool in stimulating kids in their visual
learning environment. Several scholars around the world have looked in to
the diverse effects of colours on children and found favourable effects on
their psychological and behavioural aspects which directly relate with child-
hood development. For instance colours are found to aid in creating a posi-
tive school ambience generating supportive feelings, emotions and psycho-
logical behaviour, reducing off task behaviour, disruptive behaviour and
increasing attention and academic performance of children (Mahnke,1996).
As highlighted by Mahnke (1996), the choice of colour in schools directly
correlates with its efficiency, quality, security and the cost factor. However,
the impact of colour has been overlooked when designing learning spaces.
Choosing the colour scheme in most cases is done by the administrators or
teachers in an extremely subjective basis without considering any of the es-
tablished scientific principles. Even the professionals more often do not plan
colour at the onset. Often their approach is not sound knowledge of psycho-
physiological factors (Mahnke,1996) and emerge as an afterthought.
The impact of colour on primary learning environments could be distinct
based on its composition. Whether it is a single (Monochromatic) colour or a
combination of several colours may bring about different impacts on the
learner. On the other hand this impact also will be determined based on
whether the colours are warm, cool or neutral and the time of exposure. This
investigation claims its originality for examining the impact of long term ex-
posure to a monochromatic classroom in enhancing skills and behaviour re-
A study implemented in a boys primary school, Colombo 3
lated to primary education. It specifically attempts to identify colours which
positively impact skills and behaviour while recognizing the distinction of
the impact between the dichotomies of warm vs cool colours.
The investigation was carried out in a primary section of a leading boy’s
school with adequate learning facilities. The research is limited only to boys
(n=213) in a specific age category (7years). Also the research focuses on in-
vestigating the impact of six selected colours; three warm colours (yellow,
orange, pink) and three cool colours (blue, green, purple). The research is
further narrowed to classrooms having a monochromatic colour scheme, thus
psychophysiological impacts of class rooms with colour combinations are
not considered here.
2. Literature Review
According to the ministry of education, Sri Lankan education system is di-
vided mainly in to four categories; primary school (age 5-10), junior second-
ary school (age 11-14), senior secondary school or GCE-O/L (age 15-16)
and collegiate or GCE-A/L (Age 17-18) (MOHE, 2013). Each of these age
categories have definite teaching and learning methods aligned with specific
learning outcomes. In the teaching and learning of subjects, guided play will
dominate as the main learning mode with second emphasis on active learn-
ing and minimum emphasis on desk work in key stage 1 ( grade 1,2) while
activity and deskwork will gradually replace play as the child proceeds to
key stage 3; grade 5 ( MOHE, 2013).
As per the popular culture, logical, methodical and analytical people are
left-brain dominant, while the creative and artistic types are right-brain dom-
inant. The right brain-left brain theory was originated in the work by Sperry
(1981) cited in Cherry (2016). According to this theory, right side of the
brain is best at expressive and creative tasks such as recognizing faces, ex-
pressing emotions, music, reading emotions while the left-side of the brain is
considered to be skilful at tasks that involve logic, language and analytical
thinking (Cherry, 2016). However, this notion has not been supported via
scientific inquiry (Wanjek, 2013) and largely been debunked (Rogers, 2013).
Contemporary research has revealed that the brain is not nearly as dichoto-
mous as once believed. For instance, it is identified that the abilities in sub-
jects such as maths are strongest when both halves of the brain work togeth-
er. Today, neuroscientists distinguish that the two sides of the brain collabo-
rate to perform a broad variety of tasks and that the two hemispheres com-
municate through the corpus callosum (Ursyn, 2016). Primary education is
supposed to lay the initial foundation in developing both logical thinking
(mathematics, language and environment studies) and creative thinking (arts)
equally to support successive stages of learning, leading to a well-balanced
The ideal school conveys the feeling that it is a place which cares about
students as individuals which paves the way towards responsible adulthood
(Mahnke 1996). Providing good education is setting up a positive social cli-
mate within school, a sense of caring and guidance that must take place in a
positive environmental setting (Mahnke 1996).
The design of the visual learning environment can have major conse-
quences on attention, cognition, and learning of children. Colour plays a
predominent role in a child’s visual environment. The long held belief that
the school environments should be coloured in white is not valid anymore
due to the established sterile, neutral and non-stimulating effects of colour
white on children. As established by literature, the design elements in the
class room should be manipulated in such a way to stimulate children, pro-
voking feelings of liveliness, excitement and happiness making them better
thinkers and learners. Under-stimulation and lack of visual pleasure in a
classroom channels the children’s feelings towards irritability, fidgeting, etc
(Mahnke 1996). On the other hand, environments conducive to learning
should be designed carefully without over-stimulating learners.
As clarified by Mahnke (1996), under no circumstances should it be be-
lieved that by pinning drawings, cartoons or the like on the wall the chil-
dren's need for change in hue, colour intensity and lightness is satisfied or
that it will reduce a monotonous room experience (Mahnke, 1996). Numer-
ous colours and details found in such material on walls may cause visual
noise distracting the learners. Accordingly as a principle, the presence of
colour in classroom design should neither over-stimulate nor under-stimulate
a learner. Colour for the sake of colour accomplishes little that is construc-
tive, just as bleak, less coloured environments accomplishes nothing con-
structive either (Mahnke 1996).
As per the theory of colour, the colour wheel makes a clear division be-
tween warm and cool colours. The theories and principles on the properties,
characteristics and effects of colour too are principally explained to be dual
A study implemented in a boys primary school, Colombo 5
based on the aforesaid warm / cool dichotomy. For instance warm colors are
identified to be stimulating and cool colours are pacifying (Schaie and Heiss,
1964, Plack & Shick 1974, Wineman 1979, Walters et al 1982, Whitfield
&Wiltshire 1990, Mahnke 1996, Stone 2001 and Ballast 2002). Hence, inte-
gration of de-intensified warm colours (tints, shades and tones of red, oeange
and yellow) in the classrooms are suggestive as a ground rule in creating a
stimulating environment conducive for learning.
Many studies have established the favourable impacts of incorporating
colours in learning environments. For instance, appropriate colours are im-
portant in manipulating the visibility of learning material in protecting eye-
sight, creating favourable surroundings to improve student’s attention span,
facilitating active learning and in prompting physical and psychological
health aspects of children. Many cases of nervousness irritability, lack of in-
terest, and behavioral problems can be attributed directly to incorrect envi-
ronmental conditions involving poorly planned light and colour (Mahnke
By a study conducted with 10,000 children around the world, Frieling's
(1957 cited in Mahnke 1996) identified best suiting colours for school envi-
ronments based on age groups. His study found black, white grey and dark
brown to be rejected by children between ages 5-8 while red, orange, yellow
and violet were preferred. However, he pointed out the difficulty of using
preferred colours identified by the tests as wall colours always and stressed
the necessity to modify considering the other factors such as visual ergonom-
ics (Frieling, 1957). Wohlfarth (1982 cited in Mahnke 1996) established the
impacts of colour and light on development of elementary school children.
The students who were exposed to light and colour changes were found to be
least stressed, reporting reduced incidents of destructive behavior, aggres-
siveness and habitual disruptiveness (Wohlfarth, 1982). Introducing light
and colour was also found to improve academic performance and I.Q test
scores of elementary school children in a large percentage (Wohlfarth,
On the other hand Grangaard (1995) changed the classroom colour from
white to blue, which is a cool colour, while removing much of the visual
noise and installed full spectrum lighting with UV content. The findings of
the study concluded that off task behavior declined and academic standings
improved. Another study done by Ertel (1973), assessed the impact of envi-
ronmental color on learning capacity. Classrooms painted light blue, yellow,
yellow-green and orange were found to raise IQ levels while stimulating
alertness and creativity in children. Contrastingly, white, black and brown
were found to make the learners duller, causing a drop in their IQ level. Ertel
(1973) further revealed the favorable impacts of orange on social behaviour,
cheering the spirit and decreasing irritability.
By tracking more than 600 participants' performance on six cognitive
tasks that required either detail-orientation or creativity, red was identified to
boost performance on detail-oriented tasks such as memory retrieval and
proofreading while blue was found to boost creative tasks (Zue, 2009). This
finding proposes the impact of red (warm colours) on left brain thinking and
the influence of blue (cool colours) on the right brain.
As identified by Mahnke (1996), children of kindergarten through elemen-
tary school ages are mostly extraverted by nature. Accordingly a warm
bright yet de-intensified colour scheme (light salmon, soft warm yellow, pale
yellow-orange, coral and peach) in their visual learning environment com-
plements this tendency, thereby reducing tension, nervousness, and anxiety.
As accents, colours of the opposite temperature (cool) should also be intro-
duced (Mahnke, 1996). Accordingly, the colours should be in a harmonious
compositions of two opposite temperatures.
It is essential to reduce visual noise, visual distractions or chaos as much
as possible in the learning environment which detract children’s learning and
performance (Grangaard, 1995). Apart from colour, using full spectrum
lighting is highly recommended to support effective learning (Grangaard,
The study identified a gap in available literature on the impact of long term
exposure to a single/monochromatic colour on performance and behaviour of
primary children.
3. Research Design
A preliminary questionnaire survey was conducted with grade 2 students of a
school in Akuressa, Matara (n=86) to understand the nature of responses and
vocabulary of primary school children. The final questionnaire was designed
eliminating errors identified in the pilot study for the final outcome to be
more accurate. Grade two class rooms in the primary section of a boy’s
school in Colombo were selected for the investigation based on their unique
usage of colour. The students study in identical monochromatic classrooms
(n=6) in the same location having walls and furniture coloured with six dif-
A study implemented in a boys primary school, Colombo 7
ferent colours; orange, yellow, green, blue, purple pink throughout two con-
secutive years (grade1and 2) with the same class teacher. Accordingly all the
parameters leading to the learning environment are fixed for two years.
However the influence of the class teacher remains a significant parameter
for their education, which is beyond the control of the investigator.
All the grade two students of the primary section (n=213) and the respec-
tive class teachers (n=6) were selected as the participants for the final inves-
tigation. Students and class teachers were given two distinct questionnaires
seeking the impacts of exposure to classroom colour (warm colours; orange,
yellow and pink and cool colours; blue, green, and purple) on student’s pref-
erence, performance, learning and behavior. A numbered colour palette hav-
ing 6 colours was used as a guide for the convenience of children in filling
the questionnaire. The teachers also provided their opinion on children’s ac-
ademic performance and behaviour in relation to classroom colours; statisti-
cal records related to student’s attendance, sickness, punishments and out-
standing/weak students. Both qualitative and quantitative survey methods
were used in gathering information.
4. Data presentation and analysis
The majority (45%) selected red as their favourite colour. The second, third
and fourth significantly favoured colours were blue (21%) green (13%) and
purple (9%) respectively. Accordingly, the most preferred colour of primary
children is a warm colour followed by three cool colours. Conversely the
majority selected black (30%) and pink (24%) colours as their least favourite
colours while the third least favoured colour was found to be yellow (11%).
Figure1, Class rooms of Primary Section; Grade 1 and 2
Figure 4, Subject Preference of Children
Specific classroom colours were found to be supportive in specific subject
areas. In general terms, a majority of students in all the classes preferred arts
over other subjects (Sinhala, Mathematics). However there was a significant
difference in the blue class where 86% students significantly preferred arts
over other subjects (Sinhala-11% and Mathematics- 3%). Accordingly, long
term exposure to blue colour has impacted students to prefer a subject that
involves creative thinking. A study done by Zue (2009) has similarly identi-
fied the impact of blue colour in improving creativity of participants.
Accordingly it can be suggested adopting Sperry’s (1981) conventional
theory that blue supports right brain thinking in primary learning environ-
Figure 2, Preferred Colours
Figure 3, Least preferred colours
A study implemented in a boys primary school, Colombo 9
ments. On the other hand most of the students in the blue classroom had an
extremely low preference to Mathematics (3%); a subject which involves
critical analytical, left brain thinking (Sperry, 1981). The same finding could
be seen in the pink class as well (3%). Blue and pink are established to be
pacifiers as per literature (Schauss 1979, Mahnke1996, Stone 2001).
The highest percentage of children who preferred Mathematics were
found in the Orange class (30%), where the second highest is from yellow
class (26%). Accordingly, aligning with Zue’s (2009) findings both yellow
and orange (warm colours) are found to boost left brain thinking and are
suggestive to be integrated in learning environments to boost logical think-
However the highest number of students who preferred Sinhala subject
(language) were seen in the Green class (33%), Pink class (38%) and purple
class (29%) which involves logical left brain thinking (Sperry, 1981). Here
green (yellow+ blue), purple (red + blue) and pink colours (red + white)
have a warm colour as a parent colour. Most importantly the children of the
green class were found to have a balanced preference to all the three sub-
jects. Purple class was identified to be the second in line to have a balanced
preference to all the subjects. Both green and purple are cool colours and
secondary colours; a mixture of a warm primary colour and a cool primary
colour in equal amounts. (Green = Blue + Yellow, Purple = Blue + Red).
This might be the reason for green and purple to support both left and right
brain thinking.
Figure 6, Attendance Vs Classroom colour - 2015
The teacher of the pink class could not provide details of attendance and be-
low analysis was done using the data of other 5 classes. The maximum num-
ber of students who maintained 100% attendance in 2015 was reported in
green class (24%). But in 2016 the highest 100% attendance was recorded in
Orange class (32%). The result of the Green class was found to be the same
as the previous year. However considering the student's attendance between
90% -100% the maximum number was reported in yellow class (58% and
59% respectively in 2015 and 2016). The other significant finding about yel-
low class is that none of the students had maintained attendance below 70%
in both 2015 and 2016. On the other hand no one had maintained 100% at-
tendance in the yellow class in both the years.
The highest number of students who had maintained attendance less than
70% in year 2015 were reported from green and purple class (7%) in both
years which is another considerable finding.
The percentage of students who had maintained attendance above 80% in
year 2015 was; 93% (blue class), 84% (Purple class), 83% (yellow class),
79% (Green class) and 77% (orange class). The students who have main-
tained attendance above 80% in year 2016 are; 89% (blue class), 87% (or-
ange class).86% (yellow class), 65 % (Purple class), and 64% (Green class).
Accordingly a positive impact of blue colour on student’s attendance was
Orange class (n=15) and green class (n=12) show the highest number of stu-
dents who significantly demonstrate the relevant skills consistently. On the
other hand blue class was found to have the least number of significantly
skilled students (n=1).
Figure 5, Attendance Vs Classroom colour - 2016
A study implemented in a boys primary school, Colombo 11
5. Conclusion and recommendation
Several colours which are supportive in primary learning environments for
learning and skill development were revealed by this investigation. Exposure
to blue, orange and yellow colours were found as significant to have a
maximum impact on primary education. Yellow and orange (warm colours)
in learning environments were identified to have a positive effect on improv-
ing logical, analytical thinking ability of a child. Long term exposure to blue
which is a cool colour was significantly dominating in improving creative
thinking in primary learning environments. Evidence of a positive impact of
blue colour on child’s mentality for better school attendance is revealed.
Green and purple colours being secondary cool colours were found to have a
balanced impact on improving both logical and creative thinking.
Colour associated personal preferences of each student and teacher, their
psychophysiological states, preconceived ideologies, copying others answers
and reluctance to give genuine answers would have an impact on the accura-
cy of the responses. Accordingly it is recommended to conduct the investiga-
tion considering diverse samples in large sizes namely female samples and
different age categories. Beyond the tested six limited monochromatic situa-
tions, the research can be broadened up in seeking the impact of other col-
ours and their different values. Investigating on the impact of long term ex-
posure to classroom interiors with different colour combinations is another
facet worth investigating.
The observations made are highly beneficial in selecting the interior col-
ours to create most conducive primary educational environments in future
design interventions.
Figure 7, Performance Vs Classroom colour
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Full-text available
It is hypothesized that a newly discovered color, Baker-Miller Pink, has a measurable and predictable effect on reducing physiological variables associated with aggression in subjects of normal intelligence. Studies at one U.S. Naval correctional facility, two California county correctional centers, and two state and federal psychiatric hospitals, confirm these preliminary findings. In several controlled university studies the effect has been found to be significant but the magnitude of effect small. The effect has also been seen in both the non-visually impaired, those color-blind, and some blind subjects, suggesting a physiological mechanism. The possible physiological processes believed to be involved are unknown, however, undetermined neurochemicals in the eye communicating with the hypothalamic center are suspected. A color swatch is available and mixing directions for the color are provided, as it has been found that the precise shade is essential in accurately assessing outcomes.
Full-text available
This book responds to that challenge with a coherent account of what thinking and creativity are, how they originate and how they can be taught.
Reviews the literature on the effects of color on physical, perceptual, and emotional responses and color preferences. Because color is related to many of these variables (e.g., blood pressure, pulse rate, judgments of size, weight, and distance, and personality characteristics) and since these variables have also been linked to motivation and motor performance, several hypotheses concerning the effects of color on motor performance are suggested. Implications for educational equipment and facilities are also examined. (75 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
The theory of psychological reversals asserts that there are two levels of preferred felt arousal, one high and one low. Only one of them is preferred at a given time, although discrete switches (reversals) occur from time to time, so that each level is preferred at different times. In order to document such changes in preferred levels of arousal, 75 subjects were asked to make color preference choices at regular intervals during their working day, some for as many as 8 days. The assumption was that different colors are arousing or relaxing, and that color choice indicates arousal preference. The typical patterns of color choices that occurred clearly displayed the expected reversal effect over time and were considerably more consistent with reversal theory than with optimal arousal theory. In a second study, 41 new subjects were asked to respond to a simple mood adjective checklist each time they made their color preference choices. The results strongly supported the association between arousal preference and color preference and also supported the reversal theory thesis that low arousal preference is associated with seriousness and planning orientation (all these characterizing the telic state), and that high arousal preference is associated with playfulness and spontaneity (all these characterizing the paratelic state). Finally, both studies showed that there is a systematic tendency for long-wavelength colors to induce feelings of high arousal and for short-wavelength colors to induce feelings of low arousal.
The study setting (private or open-plan), environmental color (blue, red, or white), and study material (reading or math comprehension) were manipulated in a simulated study environment to determine their effects on adult students' mood, satisfaction, motivation, and performance. Students rated the reading task as more demanding and less enjoyable than the math task. Negative mood was slightly greater for students given the reading task. Positive mood was slightly higher when students studied in a blue carrel compared to a red carrel in the open-plan setting. Satisfaction with performance and motivation were not affected. Performance was significantly lower on the reading task in the red environment. Implications of these findings and suggestions for research are discussed.
A review of the field commonly referred to as color psychology poses a number of organizational problems stemming from the size and diversity of the literature, the range of issues investigated, and the different degrees of experimental rigor exercised. As a selective approach is both inevitable and desirable, the focus of this review is on those laboratory studies involving an "evaluative" response to color patches or chips. Numerically, this research represents the main body of work in color psychology and in experimental aesthetics generally.
Understanding the Myth of Left Brain and Right Brain Dominance
  • K Cherry
Cherry, K. (2016). Understanding the Myth of Left Brain and Right Brain Dominance. Retrieved from
Color and Light Effects on Learning. Association for Childhood Education International Study Conference and Exhibition
  • E M Grangaard
Grangaard, E. M. (1995). Color and Light Effects on Learning. Association for Childhood Education International Study Conference and Exhibition, (pp. 2-10). Washington, D.C Mahnke, F. H. (1996). Color, environment, & human response. New York.
Through the colour lens
  • M Mcauliffe
McAuliffe,M. ( 2016).Through the colour lens. Oxphord Global Press, UK.