Color Psychology: Does It Affect How You Feel?
How Colors Impact Moods, Feelings, and Behaviors
Do you feel anxious in a yellow room? Does the color blue make you feel calm and relaxed? Artists and interior designers have long believed that color can dramatically affect moods, feelings, and emotions. “Colors, like features, follow the changes of the emotions,” the artist Pablo Picasso once remarked.
Color is a powerful communication tool and can be used to signal action, influence mood, and even influence physiological reactions.
Certain colors have been associated with increased blood pressure, increased metabolism, and eyestrain.
So how exactly does color work? How is color believed to impact mood and behavior?
What Is Color Psychology?
In 1666, English scientist Sir Isaac Newton discovered that when pure white light passes through a prism, it separates into all of the visible colors. Newton also found that each color is made up of a single wavelength and cannot be separated any further into other colors.
Further experiments demonstrated that light could be combined to form other colors. For example, red light mixed with yellow light creates an orange color. Some colors, such as green and magenta, cancel each other out when mixed and result in a white light.
If you have ever painted, then you have probably noticed how certain colors can be mixed to create other colors.
“Given the prevalence of color, one would expect color psychology to be a well-developed area,” researchers Andrew Elliot and Markus Maier have noted.
“Surprisingly, little theoretical or empirical work has been conducted to date on color’s influence on psychological functioning, and the work that has been done has been driven mostly by practical concerns, not scientific rigor.”
Despite the general lack of research in this area, the concept of color psychology has become a hot topic in marketing, art, design, and other areas.
Much of the evidence in this emerging area is anecdotal at best, but researchers and experts have made a few important discoveries and observations about the psychology of color and the effect it has on moods, feelings, and behaviors.
Of course, your feelings about color are often deeply personal and rooted in your own experience or culture. For example, while the color white is used in many Western countries to represent purity and innocence, it is seen as a symbol of mourning in many Eastern countries.
The Psychological Effects of Color
Why is color such a powerful force in our lives? What effects can it have on our bodies and minds?
While perceptions of color are somewhat subjective, there are some color effects that have universal meaning. Colors in the red area of the color spectrum are known as warm colors and include red, orange, and yellow. These warm colors evoke emotions ranging from feelings of warmth and comfort to feelings of anger and hostility.
Colors on the blue side of the spectrum are known as cool colors and include blue, purple, and green. These colors are often described as calm, but can also call to mind feelings of sadness or indifference.
Color Psychology as Therapy
Several ancient cultures, including the Egyptians and Chinese, practiced chromotherapy, or the use of colors to heal. Chromotherapy is sometimes referred to as light therapy or colorology and is still used today as a holistic or alternative treatment.
In this treatment:
* Red was used to stimulate the body and mind and to increase circulation.
* Yellow was thought to stimulate the nerves and purify the body.
* Orange was used to heal the lungs and to increase energy levels.
* Blue was believed to soothe illnesses and treat pain.
* Indigo shades were thought to alleviate skin problems.
Modern Research on Color Psychology
Most psychologists view color therapy with skepticism and point out that the supposed effects of color are often grossly exaggerated. Colors also have different meanings in different cultures. Research has demonstrated in many cases that the mood-altering effects of color may only be temporary. A blue room may initially cause feelings of calm, but the effect dissipates after a short period of time.
However, the existing research has found that color can impact people in a variety of surprising ways:
* One study found that warm-colored placebo pills were reported as more effective than cool-colored placebo pills.
* Anecdotal evidence has suggested that installing blue-colored streetlights can lead to reduced crime in those areas.
* More recently, researchers discovered that the color red causes people to react with greater speed and force, something that might prove useful during athletic activities.
* A study that looked at historical data found that sports teams dressed in mostly black uniforms are more likely to receive penalties and that students were more likely to associate negative qualities with a player wearing a black uniform.
Color Can Influence Performance
Studies have also shown that certain colors can have an impact on performance. No one likes to see a graded test covered in red ink, but one study found that seeing the color red before taking an exam actually hurt test performance. While the color red is often described as threatening, arousing or exciting, many previous studies on the impact of the color red have been largely inconclusive. The study found, however, that exposing students to the color red prior to an exam has been shown to have a negative impact on test performance.
In the first of the six experiments described in the study, 71 U.S. colleges students were presented with a participant number colored either red, green or black prior to taking a five-minute test. The results revealed that students who were presented with the red number before taking the test scored more than 20 percent lower than those presented with the green and black numbers
HOW DO YOU USE COLOR TO INFLUENCE YOUR MENTAL HEALTH?
Knowing the meanings behind certain colors will help improve and influence your mental health. Recreate a nostalgic feeling from your childhood room by searching Shutterstock for wall patterns and graphics of your choice to use to redecorate. Revisiting your past and using colors important to you throughout your life will solidify positive emotions.
Are you eager to relax when you get home? Try finding a space where you are able to infuse blue or green in the color scheme. Using this as a focus point for meditation will help calm your nerves. In the same vein, if you are feeling sad, focus on brighter colors like yellow or orange. Spend time outdoors and stare at the green grass or bask in the sun.
Want to nail your job interview and go in with authority? Wear a black business suit to help you exercise your intelligence and presence.
Ultimately you will prefer certain colors because of what emotions it stirs in you. Those are the colors demanding your attention and you have the power to decide how to use them to your advantage.
Additional Research Is Still Needed
Interest in the subject of color psychology is growing, but there remain a number of unanswered questions. How do color associations develop? How powerful is the influence of these associations on real-world behavior? Can color be used to increase worker productivity or workplace safety? What colors have an impact on consumer behavior? Do certain personality types prefer certain colors? As researchers continue to explore such questions, we may soon learn more about the impact that color has on human psychology.
Zena O’Connor, a faculty member in the Department of Architecture, Design, and Planning at the University of Sydney, suggests that people should be wary of many of the claims they see about the psychology of color.
“Many of these claims lack substantiation in terms of empirical support, exhibit fundamental flaws (such as causal oversimplification and subjective validation), and may include factoids presented as facts,” O’Connor explains. “In addition, such claims often refer to outdated research without referring to current research findings.”
Color can play an important role in conveying information, creating certain moods, and even influencing the decisions people make. Color preferences also exert an influence on the objects people choose to purchase, the clothes they wear, and the way they adorn their environments. People often select objects in colors that evoke certain moods or feelings, such as selecting a car color that seems sporty, futuristic, sleek, or trustworthy. Room colors can also be used to evoke specific moods, such as painting a bedroom a soft green to create a peaceful mood.
So what’s the bottom line? Experts have found that while color can have an influence on how we feel and act, these effects are subject to personal, cultural, and situational factors. More scientific research is needed to gain a better understanding of color psychology.
Elliot, AJ. Color and psychological functioning: A review of theoretical and empirical work. Frontiers in Psychology. 2015;https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00368.
Elliot, AJ & Maier, MA. Color psychology: Effects of perceiving color on psychological functioning in humans. Annual Review of Psychology. 2013;65:95-120.
Elliot, AJ & Maier, MA. Color and psychological functioning. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 2007;16(5): 250-254.
Kida, TE. Don’t Believe Everything You Think: The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make In Thinking. New York: Prometheus Books; 2006.
O’Connor, Z. Colour psychology and colour Therapy: Caveat emptor. Color Research & Application. 2011;36(3):229-234.
Color Psychology: How the Colors You Choose Affect Your Mood
Can the color you wear really affect your mood? Research says yes; color can absolutely affect your mood, behavior and stress levels.
s behavior in nature. Eiseman has asked thousands of people what they think of specific colors and has found many patterns. She explains, We have a repository of information about a color. For example, the color blue is almost always associated with blue skies, which when we are children is a positive thing it means playing outside and fun. Evolutionarily it also means there are no storms to come. This is why it is reminds us of stability and calm.
She cautions that there are no magic bullet answers, but there are generalities that can be gleaned from decades of research on the patterns of what people think about each color. So, how can you pick the perfect color for each situation? Based on the research, here is your personal color guide:
What Color You Should Make Your Desktop: Green
What color you choose for your desktop and the colors you choose for your website can greatly affect your productivity. The color green is restful for eyes and produces the least amount of eyestrain. This is a good choice for computer desktops if you are in front of a screen for many hours.
What Color to Wear for a Work Out: Orange
Orange is a color of stimulation and enthusiasm. Orange is a nice mix of reds passion and yellows joy. Research has found that orange increases oxygen supply to the brain, produces an energizing effect, and stimulates brain activity.
What Color to Wear on a Date (if youre a woman): Red
Red is the color of passion and gets blood pumping. Women can wear this to get their dates heart racing.
What Color to Wear on a Date (if youre a man): Blue
Blue is the most stable color. Women love seeing stable men. It is also calming and can help relax both you and your dates nerves.
What to Wear If You Want to Be Seen As Aggressive: Black
Researchers examined statistics from more than 52,000 National Hockey League games and found that teams were penalized more for aggression while wearing black jerseys. (Hockey teams have two color jerseys and switch for home and away games). Interestingly, the NHL in 2003 changed its jersey policy so that home teams had to wear white. The authors of the study compared the sets of data and found that the same teams were assessed significantly more penalties for aggression when they wore the black jerseys than when they wore white.
What Colors You Should Paint Your Office: Blue and Green
In 1999, researchers at Creighton University found that colors significantly influence employees emotions and efficiency. Workers in blue offices felt the most centered, calm and hopeful towards their work. Since blue can lower heart rates and green reduces anxiety and is associated with money, a combination of blue and green is best for the workplace.
What Color You Should Never Wear to Work: Grey
Grey inspires people to be passive, uninvolved and have a lack of energy. If you like wearing grey, pairing it with a brighter color will help offset the effect.
Choosing the color of your office, your clothes or your desktop should not be taken lightly colors do affect our moods and productivity. However, colors are not the only thing that affects us one can still be efficient in a grey suit or workout well in a black outfit. But, when given the choice, picking a color that will work with you, and not against you can only help.
Citations: Jacobs, Keith W. and Frank G. Hustmyer Jr. (1974), Effects of Four Psychological Primary Colors on GSR, Heart Rate and Respiration Rate, Perceptual and Motor Skills, 38, 763-66. Color Wheel Pro. Accessed: October 31, 2012. http://www.color-wheel-pro.com/
University of Hawaii at Hilo; The Psychology of Color; Kalyan N. Meola; 2005
Effects of Office Interior Color on Workers Mood and Productivity. Nancy K Wallek, Carol M. Lewis, and Ann S. Robbins. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1988, 66, 123-128.
Birren, F. (1978). Color & Human Response. New York: John Wiley & Sons. Inc.
Mahnke, F. (1996). Color, environment and human response. New York: Wiley.
Mahnke, R. & Mahnke, F. (1993). Color and Light 1993. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Webster, G., Urland, G., & Correll, J. (2011). Can Uniform Color Color Aggression? Quasi-Experimental Evidence From Professional Ice Hockey Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3 (3), 274-281 DOI: 10.1177/1948550611418535
Psychological Properties Of Colours
There are four psychological primary colours – red, blue, yellow and green. They relate respectively to the body, the mind, the emotions and the essential balance between these three. The psychological properties of the eleven basic colours are as follows (Learn how you can harness the positive effects of the colours, by joining us on one of our courses):
Positive: Physical courage, strength, warmth, energy, basic survival, ‘fight or flight’, stimulation, masculinity, excitement.
Negative: Defiance, aggression, visual impact, strain.
Being the longest wavelength, red is a powerful colour. Although not technically the most visible, it has the property of appearing to be nearer than it is and therefore it grabs our attention first. Hence its effectiveness in traffic lights the world over. Its effect is physical; it stimulates us and raises the pulse rate, giving the impression that time is passing faster than it is. It relates to the masculine principle and can activate the “fight or flight” instinct. Red is strong, and very basic. Pure red is the simplest colour, with no subtlety. It is stimulating and lively, very friendly. At the same time, it can be perceived as demanding and aggressive.
Positive: Intelligence, communication, trust, efficiency, serenity, duty, logic, coolness, reflection, calm.
Negative: Coldness, aloofness, lack of emotion, unfriendliness.
Blue is the colour of the mind and is essentially soothing; it affects us mentally, rather than the physical reaction we have to red. Strong blues will stimulate clear thought and lighter, soft blues will calm the mind and aid concentration. Consequently it is serene and mentally calming. It is the colour of clear communication. Blue objects do not appear to be as close to us as red ones. Time and again in research, blue is the world’s favourite colour. However, it can be perceived as cold, unemotional and unfriendly.
Positive: Optimism, confidence, self-esteem, extraversion, emotional strength, friendliness, creativity.
Negative: Irrationality, fear, emotional fragility, depression, anxiety, suicide.
The yellow wavelength is relatively long and essentially stimulating. In this case the stimulus is emotional, therefore yellow is the strongest colour, psychologically. The right yellow will lift our spirits and our self-esteem; it is the colour of confidence and optimism. Too much of it, or the wrong tone in relation to the other tones in a colour scheme, can cause self-esteem to plummet, giving rise to fear and anxiety. Our “yellow streak” can surface.
Positive: Harmony, balance, refreshment, universal love, rest, restoration, reassurance, environmental awareness, equilibrium, peace.
Negative: Boredom, stagnation, blandness, enervation.
Green strikes the eye in such a way as to require no adjustment whatever and is, therefore, restful. Being in the centre of the spectrum, it is the colour of balance – a more important concept than many people realise. When the world about us contains plenty of green, this indicates the presence of water, and little danger of famine, so we are reassured by green, on a primitive level. Negatively, it can indicate stagnation and, incorrectly used, will be perceived as being too bland.
Positive: Spiritual awareness, containment, vision, luxury, authenticity, truth, quality.
Negative: Introversion, decadence, suppression, inferiority.
The shortest wavelength is violet, often described as purple. It takes awareness to a higher level of thought, even into the realms of spiritual values. It is highly introvertive and encourages deep contemplation, or meditation. It has associations with royalty and usually communicates the finest possible quality. Being the last visible wavelength before the ultra-violet ray, it has associations with time and space and the cosmos. Excessive use of purple can bring about too much introspection and the wrong tone of it communicates something cheap and nasty, faster than any other colour.
Positive: Physical comfort, food, warmth, security, sensuality, passion, abundance, fun.
Negative: Deprivation, frustration, frivolity, immaturity.
Since it is a combination of red and yellow, orange is stimulating and reaction to it is a combination of the physical and the emotional. It focuses our minds on issues of physical comfort – food, warmth, shelter etc. – and sensuality. It is a ‘fun’ colour. Negatively, it might focus on the exact opposite – deprivation. This is particularly likely when warm orange is used with black. Equally, too much orange suggests frivolity and a lack of serious intellectual values.
Positive: Physical tranquillity, nurture, warmth, femininity, love, sexuality, survival of the species.
Negative: Inhibition, emotional claustrophobia, emasculation, physical weakness.
Being a tint of red, pink also affects us physically, but it soothes, rather than stimulates. (Interestingly, red is the only colour that has an entirely separate name for its tints. Tints of blue, green, yellow, etc. are simply called light blue, light greenetc.) Pink is a powerful colour, psychologically. It represents the feminine principle, and survival of the species; it is nurturing and physically soothing. Too much pink is physically draining and can be somewhat emasculating.
Positive: Psychological neutrality.
Negative: Lack of confidence, dampness, depression, hibernation, lack of energy.
Pure grey is the only colour that has no direct psychological properties. It is, however, quite suppressive. A virtual absence of colour is depressing and when the world turns grey we are instinctively conditioned to draw in and prepare for hibernation. Unless the precise tone is right, grey has a dampening effect on other colours used with it. Heavy use of grey usually indicates a lack of confidence and fear of exposure.
Positive: Sophistication, glamour, security, emotional safety, efficiency, substance.
Negative: Oppression, coldness, menace, heaviness.
Black is all colours, totally absorbed. The psychological implications of that are considerable. It creates protective barriers, as it absorbs all the energy coming towards you, and it enshrouds the personality. Black is essentially an absence of light, since no wavelengths are reflected and it can, therefore be menacing; many people are afraid of the dark. Positively, it communicates absolute clarity, with no fine nuances. It communicates sophistication and uncompromising excellence and it works particularly well with white. Black creates a perception of weight and seriousness.
It is a myth that black clothes are slimming:
Which of these boxes do you think is bigger/heavier?
The truth behind the myth is that black is the most recessive colour a matter of not drawing attention to yourself, rather than actually making you look slimmer.
Positive: Hygiene, sterility, clarity, purity, cleanness, simplicity, sophistication, efficiency.
Negative: Sterility, coldness, barriers, unfriendliness, elitism.
Just as black is total absorption, so white is total reflection. In effect, it reflects the full force of the spectrum into our eyes. Thus it also creates barriers, but differently from black, and it is often a strain to look at. It communicates, “Touch me not!” White is purity and, like black, uncompromising; it is clean, hygienic, and sterile. The concept of sterility can also be negative. Visually, white gives a heightened perception of space. The negative effect of white on warm colours is to make them look and feel garish.
Positive: Seriousness, warmth, Nature, earthiness, reliability, support.
Negative: Lack of humour, heaviness, lack of sophistication.
Brown usually consists of red and yellow, with a large percentage of black. Consequently, it has much of the same seriousness as black, but is warmer and softer. It has elements of the red and yellow properties. Brown has associations with the earth and the natural world. It is a solid, reliable colour and most people find it quietly supportive – more positively than the ever-popular black, which is suppressive, rather than supportive.
The most important thing to know about colors, and our emotional response to them, has to do with colors saturation and brightness. Saturation is how pure a color is. Less saturated colors are more grayish, so khaki green is less saturated than Kelly green. Brightness is, as youd expect, basically how light a color seems. Colors that are less saturated but bright, such as a bright sage green, are relaxing, and those that are more saturated and less bright, such as sapphire blues, are more energizing to look at.
Colors are called warm (reds and oranges) and cool (blues and greens) for a reason: When were in a space where the walls are painted in warm colors, we actually feel that the temperature there is warmer than we do in similar spaces painted cool colors. This makes warm colors good options for a vestibule in a cool climatethe temperature inside the building will seem even more comfortable as people enter from the coldor in a room thats hard to heat. Cool colors are good choices in entryways to buildings in warm climates, and in rooms that have a tendency to be warm, perhaps because of sunlight flowing into them.
We are drawn to warm colors, such as reds and oranges, so theyre good colors to put at the end of a longish hallway or to use to draw people toward a particular section of a large space.
Putting a light color on a wall makes that wall seem a little further away than it actually is, while darker colors on walls make them seem slightly closer than their true position. So you can use colors to change the apparent shapes of roomsfor example, pulling in the far walls of a long thin space. You can make places where lots of people will gather, such as family rooms, seem larger by painting the walls light colors and make boudoirs feel cozier by painting the walls darker colors.
Rigorous research has also revealed the special powers of particular colors:
* Green Seeing the color green has been linked to more creative thinkingso greens are good options for home offices, art studios, etc.
* Red People seeing others in front of red backgrounds generally find those other individuals are more attractive than when they see them silhouetted against other colors, so reds are great for a bedroom wall. Having a red surface in view also gives us a burst of strength, so reds are good choices for home gym areas, etc. Seeing red has been linked to impaired analytical reasoning, though, making it a bad option for offices.
* Violet People link a grayish violet with sophistication, so it can be a good selection for places where youre trying to make the right impression.
* Yellow Using yellow in a home can be problematic. Many people dislike the color, so if you have a lot of yellow rooms in your home or a yellow front door, you may be advised to repaint to get the best price for your home should you sell. An exception: Many people use yellow in kitchenswith no negative sales repercussions. Yellow may be accepted in kitchens because warm colors stimulate our appetite.
* Blue People are more likely to tell you that blue is their favorite color than any other shade. That makes it a safe choice. Seeing blue also brings thoughts of trustworthiness to mind; always a good thing.
Use colordont opt out and live in a beige world. Humans are more comfortable in spaces with color than in those without. A beige world is understimulatingand thats stressful.
Stride purposefully into your local home-improvement store and color your world
Sally Augustin, Ph.D., is an environmental psychologist and the author of Place Advantage: Applied Psychology for Interior Architecture.