A good rule of thumb for many Westerners is this: wear black to a funeral. Black, in this context, signifies solemnity; it’s how we show that we’re grieving and respecting that of those around us. Weddings, on the other hand, are known for white – but only for the bride! While the bride wears white to symbolize purity and uphold tradition, wearing white as a guest is often seen as an attempt at pulling attention away from the ceremony, which can be considered gravely insulting depending on one’s company.
Wardrobe, of course, is far from the only place in our lives where color comes into play. But the point still stands: color is vital to the human experience. Through color, we feel; we communicate; we heal. Those in advertising use it to sell products; those in schools and offices use it to increase productivity.
When it comes to communication, color is unbeatable. Unconscious or otherwise, color can evoke emotions, inspire reactions, and change modes of thinking. It can excite or soothe your mood, raise or lower your blood pressure, and even whet your appetite! Whether it’s innate or learned, it’s undeniable that color has a vital impact on how we go about our lives.
With the basics of the color theory under your belt, you can approach the psychology of individual colors with a bit more nuance. As we’ve established, color is far from just a visual experience; it can affect your mood, your wants, your reactions, so on and so forth. However, such a powerful tool is wasted if you don’t know how to use it effectively.
As such, knowing the personality and psychological effects of different colors – including various shades and tints popular with producers and consumers alike – is vital!
Consider the following list a table of contents of sorts. This will be your point of reference from which to navigate the depths of color psychology.
Table of Contents
- The Color Psychology of Red
- The Color Psychology of Green
- The Color Psychology of Blue
- The Color Psychology of Brown
- The Color Psychology of Orange
- The Color Psychology of Yellow
- The Color Psychology of Pink
- The Color Psychology of Purple
- The Color Psychology of White
- The Color Psychology of Black
From the start of the rainbow to the ubiquitous advertising for Valentine’s Day, red remains one of the most evocative colors on the visible spectrum. As a primary color, red is a color entirely its own – that is to say, no other colors can come together to form a perfect red. In RGB, red is comprised of 100% red, 0% green, and 0% blue.
- Associated with energy, war, danger, strength, power, determination as well as passion, desire, and love.
- Enhances human metabolism, increases respiration rate, and raises blood pressure.
- It attracts attention more than any other color, at times signifying danger.
Green is the primary color that hints at our primitive relationship with the first creation of the world – nature. Considered the key color that represents purity, health, and freshness, green has been traditionally associated with brands that encourage growth, vitality, and productivity (think Starbucks and EverNote!).
Gentle, invigorating, and relaxing, green also represents connection. Connection to ourselves, to the quiet moments in our lives, to nature itself. It is not a mere coincidence that people evade the concrete jungle of big cities to disconnect from the mundane and connect to the wilderness of nature. Green means the return to the primal roots, to the pristine kingdom of inner peace and tranquillity.
- Color of nature. It symbolizes growth, harmony, freshness, and fertility.
- Considered beneficial to the mind and body.
- Slows human metabolism and produces a calming effect.
- Strongly associated with tranquility and calmness.
- Used to symbolize piety and sincerity.
Also check: ChartreuseRead more about the color green >>
In contrast to its sister primary color, red, blue is associated with a calm serenity over intensity or passion. When asked to visualize a tranquil scene, chances are people will immediately imagine a great deal of blue – usually in the form of a still body of water. Thoughtful and still, blue represents a sense of inner reflection. A great deal of research has indicated that this impact on the body is indeed inverse to red’s, resulting in lower heart rates and even slower metabolisms.
- Unique and authentic
- Enthusiastic, sympathetic, and personal; they seek meaning and significance in life
- Warm, communicative, and compassionate; they care about what they do
- Idealistic, spiritual, and sincere; they value unity and integrity in their relationships
- Peaceful, flexible, and imaginative; they are natural romantics and nurturers
Moving on to a more serious and imposing color, we arrive at brown, which no longer sends us thinking of youthfulness and excitement. Traditionally associated with seriousness, stability, and wisdom, brown is mostly worn by people who impose respect and appreciation through their status. When you think of this color, you might envision a paternal figure or a grandfather in the middle of the family.
Because families are centered on the stability and resourcefulness of the main male figure, most people feel secure and stable when thinking about brown. Paternal figures who passed a certain age also exude a sense of stability, but in the material sense – they have accumulated life experience which is manifested in possessions and financial gain. Most people feel safe around people wearing brown because they represent seriousness, reliance, and support.
- Associated with the traits of dependability, reliability, and resilience.
- Brown-lovers are most often reserved and not looking to attract attention to oneself
- While light brown represents honesty and stability, dark brown is considered mature, predictable, and dull
Bright and persuasive, orange results from the combination of yellow and red. As we have seen in the previous section, yellow denotes optimism and cheerfulness, while red can suggest intense feelings of love and even dominance. Orange sits in the middle of those extremities: it promotes rejuvenation, communication, and positivism. This color also enhances extraversion, allowing people to let go of their inhibitions and express themselves more freely.
- Combines the energy of red and the happiness of yellow.
- Associated with joy, sunshine, and the tropics.
- Represents enthusiasm, fascination, happiness, creativity, determination, attraction, success, encouragement, and stimulation.
“He is so bright” – Have you ever wondered where the association of increased mental capacity and this particular visual adjective comes from? Yellow, the brightest color of the spectrum, is commonly used in images depicting fresh ideas, creative projects, or new business initiatives. You probably already know the prototypical image of someone brainstorming ideas that are linked with a bright yellow bulb! This is not a random association: yellow has been scientifically proven by studies to enhance mental activity and heighten awareness and energy levels.
The brightness of this color unclogs mental blocks and encourages people to seek new perspectives by abandoning the dull ways of looking at the world. You can think of yellow as the main color of the morning time, when you are the most alert, insightful and analytical, and when you have the chance to create a brand new day in your life. And do not just take my word for it – studies have linked yellow with increased activity of the left side of the brain, which is considered the powerhouse of rational thinking!
- Associated with joy, happiness, intellect, and energy.
- Produces a warming effect, arouses cheerfulness, stimulates mental activity, and generates
- Bright, pure yellow is an attention-getter, which is the reason taxicabs are painted this color.
- When overused, yellow may have a disturbing effect.
- It is known that babies cry more in yellow rooms.
- Yellow indicates honor and loyalty. Later the meaning of yellow was connected with cowardice.
One of the gentlest and yet most contradictory colors out there, pink is a color that varies greatly depending on its context. Making it, however, remains simple. Though it has a great number of shades and undertones, pink is most commonly known to be a pale red mixed with white.
- This is a color that represents a gentle type of love
- Pink stands for tenderness, vulnerability, and youth
- It is a calming, non-threatening color. It is linked to innocence, hope, and optimism.
- The pink color also represents positive aspects of traditional femininity like nurture and kindness.
- Pink can be linked to childhood sweetness and innocence, appearing sometimes as naïve or silly
Also check: SalmonRead more about the color pink >>
And so we arrive at our first secondary color. A beautiful mixture of red and purple, purple sits exactly halfway between the two on the color wheel, though varying each amount can result in new shades.
True to its red parent color, purple is often associated with luxury and power. However, as opposed to red’s tendency to reflect the material facets of power and ambition, purple errs towards royalty and nobility. The blue tones bring in a sense of relaxation and stability, which alongside the energy of red synthesizes to create a feeling of wisdom and good sense.
- Combines the stability of blue and the energy of red.
- Associated with royalty. It symbolizes power, nobility, luxury, and ambition.
- Conveys wealth and extravagance.
- Associated with wisdom, dignity, independence, creativity, mystery, and magic.
Making a radical shift right to the opposite end of the color spectrum, we finally arrive at white. In contrast to its darker precursors who exuded mystery, white is the universal symbolic color for purity, wholeness, and innocence. It makes us think of new beginnings, perfection, but also of elegance and serenity. When you have a blank canvas free of any imperfections, you have the freedom to start something new, to let your ideas take contour, and to move in any direction you want.
White is highly creative, and it invites reflection, openness, and awakening. It is a great color for those who want to declutter their minds and spaces, hence why it is often associated with cleanliness and order. The bridal dress and the doctor’s uniforms are also white because they represent purity, order, and offer comfort and hope. Similarly, white is also largely found in doctor’s offices because it gives a sense of efficiency and perfect cleanliness, which helps patients build trust in the services offered by doctors.
- Associated with light, goodness, innocence, purity, and virginity.
- Considered to be the color of perfection.
- Signifies safety, purity, and cleanliness.
- Usually has a positive connotation.
- Can represent a successful beginning.
- Depicts faith and purity.
Moving on to black, one of the most complex in meaning colors of the spectrum, we realize that there is no set-in-stone interpretation when it comes to this color. Black is highly versatile and, depending on which angle you approach it from, you can see it as elegant, mysterious, or downright depressing. For this reason, we will dedicate some time to explore the abundance of meanings that have been historically bestowed upon this color.
- Associated with power, elegance, formality, death, evil, and mystery.
- A mysterious color associated with fear and the unknown (black holes).
- Usually has a negative connotation (blacklist, black humor, ‘black death’).
- Denotes strength and authority; it is considered to be a very formal, elegant, and prestigious color.
- The symbol of grief.
More about color psychology and symbolism
Color is, simply stated, broken down white light. This is a dissection of light at different wavelengths and each wavelength is perceived as a separate color. Objects tend to absorb or reflect these wavelengths, so when we see a yellow lemon, it is the yellow wavelength that is being reflected while all others are being absorbed. Now that we have understood what color means, let’s explore some of the ways it influences our mood.
We feel color. How or what we feel about it varies from person to person. Some colors give us a sense of serenity and calm; these usually lie within the blue side of the spectrum-that consists of purple and green too, known as the cool side. Others induce rage and make us uncomfortable, or signify passion; these lie within the red spectrum-which includes orange and yellow, known as the warm side.
Color perception is subjective, and certain colors have a very universal significance. This is coded into our reptilian brain, giving us that instinctive feeling of fire being dangerous and the beach being relaxing.
Color psychology is a very important tool used by artists, interior decorators, and as a marketing mechanism in many industries. It is the palette used by Dali that makes his artwork bizarre and amplifies the hyperrealism he intends to create.
When we visit a museum to appreciate a work of art, we take it in through the colors we see because they invoke within us certain emotions, making the claim that everyone sees it differently a reality. Interior decorators survey the effect of colors when deciding what color (Or rather color associations) the walls of a certain area in a building will be painted.
The reason that many offices have a lot of greys, blues, and browns incorporated in their décor is that these colors tend to increase productivity. Yet, this is not a rule of thumb. This does hold true for a corporate environment, but if one were to work say for example in the fashion industry, or the media, the use of brighter and more “colorful” paints would help encourage creativity.
Many car commercials show black as their model because this certain color is associated with affluence and seriousness. This leads the consumer to believe that the product is worth buying. Even the food and drink industry uses color to attract more people to certain brands. The purple and gold packaging of a certain brand of candy bar is a technique to lure the consumer into believing that this is chocolate royalty, and why would one not want to buy the best of best. Culturally speaking, colors have different values attached to them too. A bride in the western world wears white, whereas it is what a widow wears in South Asia.
Color stimulates our brain, and from ancient times has proven to be useful alternative psychotherapy. The Egyptians and Chinese used colors to heal, a process that is known as chromotherapy. Colors were used in order to help the body function better.
However, there is a lot of doubt that prevails today as far as the effectiveness of color therapy is concerned. Since every human being has different emotions attached to different colors, the universal significance of colors may or may not work in these cases.
The bottom line being, color psychology, and associations are an interesting part of the complex working system of our brain, yet with so many scientific questions about it still left unanswered, and differences in cultural attachments to colors, it can only be utilized through observation and experience of how color has influenced brains over the years.
Frequently Asked Questions about The Psychology of Colors
What's color psychology all about?
Color psychology is the study of how colors affect your behavior, mood, and impression on others. Research shows that colors can greatly affect our moods and the way other people respond to us. Amazingly, colors can even change our heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration
Can you give some examples about the psychology of colors?
Sure. For example, red enhances human metabolism, increases respiration rate, and raises blood pressure while green slows human metabolism and produces a calming effect. You can read many similar examples on our website.
What's the role of colors in food advertising?
Each color has a purpose in its usage in marketing strategies. Some colors are better than others in inspiring a desire to eat and increasing one’s appetite. While blue suppresses one’s appetite, there’s a reason why food companies like McDonald’s and Pizza Hut use yellow in combination with red.
Why school buses are yellow?
Yellow is easily detectable to the eye, particularly in the peripheral vision, it also holds other benefits for school buses. Since many children are picked up for the school day in the early morning hours, it’s often dark. The bright yellow color stands out, even in the darkest conditions.
Additional Read: Fun
Additional Read: Color Knowledge
- What is CMYK and RGB?
- What is color blindness?
- Do dogs see color?
- How colors affect appetite?
- Why school buses are yellow?
- Analogous colors
- Primary, secondary and tertiary colors
Additional Read: Mixing Colors
About the author:
Hailey graduated from the University of Amsterdam with a MA degree in Cognitive Psychology. Her main interests are biological and behavioral psychology.