The colors of good and evil

good & evil Metaphors associating white with goodness (“as pure as the driven snow”) and black with sadness or evil (“the dark side”) are prevalent in the English language (and probably in other languages as well).   As detailed recently in The Economist, a pair of researchers at the University of Virginia recently tried to determine how hard-wired humans are to associate white with good and black with bad.

They conducted an Implicit Association Test in which words associated with goodness (like “virtuous” and “honesty”) and words associated with badness (like “evil” and “sin”) were presented in either white or black fonts on a computer screen.  Subjects were asked to identify the color of the word as it appeared on the screen.

When the “good” words were presented in black, participants took significantly longer to identify the color of the word than when they were presented in white.   And the study revealed a similar effect with the “bad” words – it took longer to identify the color of those words when they were presented in white.

The researchers suggest these findings have implications for helping us understand racial prejudice.  In fact, they are conducting a follow-up study right now to determine whether the hard-wired negative associations between black-bad and white-good vary depending on one’s race.  Initial results suggest they do not.