Red or blue? Effects of background color in distraction tasks on global processing in unconscious thought

  • Jiansheng Li
  • Luyu Chen
  • Defu Pan
  • Fan Wang
  • Yang YangEmail author


Unconscious thought refers to cognitive or affective decision-related processes that take place outside conscious awareness. Studies have found that activation of local processing in Navon small-letter tasks interferes with the global processing of information by unconscious thought, while activation of global processing by Navon large-letter tasks does not. Additionally, the color red activates local processing, while the color blue activates global processing. Therefore, this study examined whether the color red interferes with the global processing of information by unconscious thought and whether the color blue does not. The results of experiment 1 showed that, compared to participants in the red-background unconscious thought condition, participants in the blue-background unconscious thought condition were better able to discriminate between whether mobile phones were considered desirable or undesirable. The results of experiment 2 showed that participants in the red-background unconscious thought condition mainly depended on expectancy-congruent information (such as walking slowly) to evaluate elderly people, while participants in the blue-background unconscious thought condition used both expectancy-congruent and expectancy-incongruent information (such as walking quickly) for such evaluation. These results show that the color red activates local processing and interferes with the global processing of information by unconscious thought, while activation of global processing by the color blue does not produce interference.


Unconscious thought Decision making Processing style Color Global processing style 



This research is supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31560281), the Gansu Provincial Social Science Foundation (YB027), and the Gansu Education Science Planning Project (GS[2018]GHBW002).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Authors declares that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

The Study Was Conducted after Obtaining Institutional Review Board Approval from the Department of Psychology at Northwest Normal University. We Received the Written Consent of all Participants before Testing Began. All Procedures Performed in Studies Involving Human Participants Were in Accordance with the Ethical Standards of the Institutional and/or National Research Committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its Later Amendments or Comparable Ethical Standards

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyNorthwest Normal UniversityLanzhouPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Medicine Training CenterAir Force Dalian AeronauticalDalianPeople’s Republic of China

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