A recent paper in the European Journal of Social Psychology suggests that teachers who use red pens to grade assignments might be more stringent than if they were to use blue or black pens. We all know that red ink is the standard for making corrections to a school exam or paper, and apparently that association is not lost on the person wielding the pen.
In the first study, participants were given a series of word completion tasks that could be completed in several ways, but could also spell a word related to poor performance. For example "FAI_" could be "FAIL" or "FAIR", and "WRO_ _" could be "WRONG" or "WROTE". Participants were given either red pens or black pens, with those wielding the red ink being more likely to finish the word-stems with words related to errors. In a second experiment, a group of participants were given an essay to grade, and either a red pen or a blue pen with which to grade. Again, those with the red pens marked more errors than those with the blue pens. Of course, the counting of marks was done by experimenters "blind" to what was actually being tested, so no one scored how accurate the marks were. That is to say, it is possible that using a red pen simply makes you more likely to mark things wrong (regardless of whether or not they actually are), or, it is possible that the red ink heightens awareness or attention to detail, resulting in more marks that are deserved. To try and determine whether or not red ink leads to deserved or undeserved scrutiny, the experimenters conducted a third experiment where they gave a group of participants an essay to grade that contained no spelling or grammatical errors. As predicted, the subjects who used red pens gave the essay a lower grade than those who used blue pens. So, if you're a student, I guess the appropriate gift for your teacher is not a shiny red apple, but a nice blue (or black) pen.
Of course, there were some other interesting tidbits in this paper:
"In addition to the many experiments demonstrating the behavioral impact of various subliminal and subtle presentations of words and images (e.g., on computer screens), a small but growing body of research has shown that physical objects and environments can also influence cognition and behavior. For instance, the presence of guns can intensify aggression (Berkowitz & LePage, 1967), the trappings of the business world induce more competitive behavior (Kay, Wheeler, Bargh, & Ross, 2004), and merely seeing a sports drink leads participants to perform with greater endurance (Friedman & Elliot, 2008). The presence of funeral homes can increase charitable behavior (Jonas, Schimel, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 2002), and even the height of a room’s ceiling can influence cognitive processing (Myers-Levy & Zhu, 2007). These examples of object priming show that, in essence, any object that is closely associated with a concept could potentially influence behavior by making that concept more accessible."Along those lines, a recent study showed that just seeing a fast food logo can make us impatient and agitated.