Color Psychology: The dramatic effect of colors on moods and emotions

Color Psychology: The dramatic effect of colors on moods and emotions

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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?

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 you’d 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.

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.

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.

Colors are called “warm” (reds and oranges) and “cool” (blues and greens) for a reason: When we’re 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 climate—the temperature inside the building will seem even more comfortable as people enter from the cold—or in a room that’s 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.

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.

Rigorous research has also revealed the special “powers” of particular colors:

  • Green: Seeing the color green has been linked to more creative thinking—so 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 you’re 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 kitchens—with 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.

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

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.

Use color—don’t opt out and live in a beige world. Humans are more comfortable in spaces with color than in those without. A beige world is under stimulating—and that’s stressful.
Stride purposefully into your local home-improvement store and color your world.

 

 

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Rava Desk

Rava is an online news portal providing recent news, editorials, opinions and advice on day to day happenings in Pakistan.

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