Correction isn’t the most important thing
June 6, 2010
For schoolchildren, the red pen has long been a fearsome weapon, blazoning the marks of failure on once pristine writing assignments. And in recent years, many teachers have turned down the volume, switching from red’s loud rebuke to gentler purple pens. Now research has illuminated another aspect of the red-pen effect: A study published last month reveals that teachers armed with red pens actually grade more severely than those using blue.
The study, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, found that when participants marked up a paper supposedly written by an English learner, the red-pen wielders found more language mistakes to criticize. And when asked to grade a paper with no actual errors — just some doubtful style choices — the red-inksters awarded lower overall marks than the blue team.
The researchers — Abraham Rutchick of California State University, Northridge, Michael Slepian of Tufts University, and Bennett Ferris of Phillips Exeter Academy — don’t address whether marking more errors is good or bad (though earlier studies have linked the color red with failure). Their main point, Rutchick noted in an e-mail, is that “we’re constantly bombarded with stimuli that influence how we think and act, even (especially?) when we’re trying our hardest to be objective.”
I wonder if this holds true for red ink on electronic documents? 😉