Is there any research that substantiates the helpfulness of using colour in presenting math?

Colour has been used effectively by user Bill Dubuque on Math SE, Calculus: Early Transcendentals (6 edn 2007) and David Lay's Linear Algebra .

I'm not asking about practical drawbacks of using color, like increased printing costs or harm to the visually impaired (as this is a minority).

  • $\begingroup$ Duplicate: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/110315/… $\endgroup$ – Daniel R. Collins May 25 '18 at 23:20
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    $\begingroup$ @DanielR.Collins It is certainly not a duplicate of the linked question since this question specifically concerns mathematics. As I emphasized in the linked MSE threads, mathematicians often employ color in much different ways than it is used in other non-mathematical fields (e.g to help the user follow subtle applications of laws or to draw the eye to hidden mathematical structure, etc). $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque May 26 '18 at 16:38
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    $\begingroup$ "as this is a minority" I'm not sure what your point was there. Are you suggesting that just because color blind people are a minority, it's okay to ignore their needs when designing materials? Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act, it can be illegal to ignore their needs. $\endgroup$ – G. Allen May 28 '18 at 2:14
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    $\begingroup$ When I taught geometry, I found color invaluable to show an angle or quadrilateral in a complex diagram. I don't think I could have taught HS geometry without it. For those who are colorblind @G.Allen , I do believe there are colors that color blind people can distinguish and since they are a minority adaptations can be made to use the colors distinguishable to those in the class. Bold black can also be used to draw the eye which will also be good for those who are colorblind. $\endgroup$ – Amy B Jun 7 '18 at 2:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Namaste Thanks for raising a good point. I have no experience teaching the blind or those who use Braille. I would think those some vision impairment would benefit from the use of colors. I don't know how you would provide equity for those using Braille when having diagrams in general and would be curious what is already done in this area. $\endgroup$ – Amy B Oct 13 '19 at 9:58

There is a fairly old article by William A. Ewbank (from 1978) in which the author argues that more colors should be used when teaching mathematics. Moreover, the references therein might also be interesting to you.

Ewbank, William A. "The Use of Color for Teaching Mathematics." The Arithmetic Teacher 26.1 (1978): 53-57.


Not research but some thinking, too long for comment:

I have seen the use of "4 color" graphs (it's 2 colors with shading, and one of the colors is gray, thus really one extra printing color over black ink) in 1980s Thomas Finney for graphs and especially solid structure pictures (e.g. rotations of solids). They touted it as beneficial, but I have also seen the practice criticized for cost. (but it's not like color photo plates). In general, there is much less need for it in math compared to other subjects where it really does help (e.g. biology, chemistry, history, or especially art history). I suspect most places it is not needed, but it will help marginally in showing certain graphs.

Also, in statistics (or really data analysis), there is a benefit to colors used in bar charts or line charts or the like with multiple data series.

I don't see much benefit to the use in equations from the other question. Probably get clearer emphasis with curly brackets underneath or something like that.


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