My grade school in Spain had a color-coded system for test scores: “A” was red, “B” was blue, “C” was green and “F” was brown. So the color distribution in your academic chart revealed at a glance how well you were doing in your various classes. One result of this system was that red and brown became, respectively, my favorite and least favorite colors as a child.
This story is one of many examples of how an essentially neutral visual stimulus (the color red in this case) may become associated with a reward value (a good grade). From this information it is easy to predict that neurons in the brain’s reward-processing system—a network of areas connecting the “thinking” cortex to the emotional centers in the brain’s limbic system—may be activated by the physical properties of those sensory stimuli that come to be associated with rewards. We learn to associate certain stimuli with positive feedback; thus, my brain’s reward centers learned to react happily to red.
This article was originally published with the title Skewed Vision.