The brain receives signals from three different color channels: red, blue, and green. When the brain receives a mix of these signals, we perceive colors that are mixtures of these three primary colors through a process called color addition (Think Quest “Color Psychology”). All colored visible light can be expressed as either mixtures or consistencies of red, blue, or green, which by perception between the eyes and the brain, produces the vast spectrum of color that exists to humans and other organisms alike.
With the ability to alter our moods and bodily functions, color has more of an impact on us than we may realize.
Each color produces different effects on humans, bringing about numerous physiological and psychological changes as unique as the color itself. Its presence everywhere in our daily lives makes these effects inevitable, no matter how unaware we are of them. Colors not only alter the state of our mind and body but can also reveal a lot about ourselves, including our personality, experiences, and ability to evoke memories.
Colors can be categorized into two groups, warm colors and cool colors. Warm colors consist of any shade of red, orange, yellow, and pink.
They can evoke emotions ranging from feelings of warmth and comfort to feelings of anger and hostility. Cool colors consist of greens, blues, and purples. Although they generally create a calming, soothing effect, they can also bring feelings of sadness or indifference (Kendra Cherry “Color Psychology: How Colors Impact Moods, Feelings, and Behaviors”). Although each of the colors within these two groups produces altercations somewhat similar to those of its group members, they create their own objective, one-of-a-kind effects on the human body and mind.
Red is one of the three primary colors, as well as one of three different color channels the brain receives signals from. It represents blood, heat, passion, love, intensity, danger, and is often associated with Christmas and Valentine’s Day (Nicholson, Mary, Dr. “Colors and Moods”). Being a very stimulating color, whenever the sight of it is picked up and signaled to the brain, red activates the adrenal glands. Physiologically, red can increase heart rate, respiration, appetite, and blood pressure. It can also raise stamina and improve the functioning of the central nervous system (Kate Smith, “Color: Meaning, Symbolism, and Psychology”).
The psychological effects of red include feelings of anger, vitality, and a sense of protection from fears and anxieties. Red can also increase enthusiasm, irritability, and sensuality. With its ability to dispel negative thoughts, it encourages confidence, action, and ambition (Think Quest). In a study by professor of psychology Andrew Elliot and researcher Daniela Niesta, it has been demonstrated that the color red makes men “feel more amorous towards women” (Science Daily “Red Enhances Men’s Attraction to Women, Psychological Study Reveals”).
Even before the experiment, research provided both empirical and biological support to Elliot and Niesta’s claim. Empirically, red has been associated with romantic love and passions across cultures and the millennia. Biologically, they found faith in humans’ deep evolutionary roots to primates. Research has shown that “nonhuman male primates are particularly attracted to females displaying red. Female baboons and chimpanzees, for example, redden conspicuously when nearing ovulation, sending a clear sexual signal designed to attract males” (Science Daily).
The study looked at men’s responses to photographs of women under various color presentations. In one experiment, subjects were shown a photograph of a woman framed by a border of red and either white, gray, green or blue. The men were then asked questions about how attractive they found the women to be. Another experiment consisted of two photos of the same woman in which the woman’s shirt was digitally colored either red or blue. Along with questions concerning attraction, they were also asked about their intentions about dating, such as “Imagine that you are going on a date with this person and have $100 in your wallet.
How much money would you be willing to spend on your date? ” (Science Daily). The results of the experiment showed that under all conditions, the women wearing or framed by red were rated significantly higher in attractiveness and sexual desirability than the exact same woman shown with any other color. Those whose favorite color is red are typically outgoing, impulsive, aggressive, and restless in personality. Red is a color chosen by those who carry an open nature and a zest for life (Annie B. Bond, “Your Favorite Color: What it Says About You”). Orange is a color that commands much attention.
It represents warmth, enthusiasm, exuberance, liveliness and is also associated with Thanksgiving and Halloween (Nicholson). Physiologically, orange can stimulate the sexual organs, benefit the digestive system, and strengthen the immune system. It incites activity, socialization, and due to its hate-it-or-love-it quality, it also sparks controversy (Smith). Psychologically, orange relieves feelings of self-pity, lack of self worth, and unwillingness to forgive. It can also open emotions, increase energy, and even serve as a perceptual antidepressant (Think Quest).
Due to its association with arrogance, danger, and over-emotion, a survey proves that orange has been labeled as “America’s Least Favorite Color” (Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen “The Subconscious Psychology of Color”). People who prefer the color orange are often flamboyant, fun-loving, and enjoy living a social life. They can be somewhat histrionic and fickle, but are generally good-natured, agreeable, and popular (Bond). Yellow is an uplifting color that is most associated with optimism, intellectuality, enlightenment, happiness, and signs of a bright future.
Yellow can increase alertness and decisiveness, encourage communication, and stimulate the muscles and lymph system. Yellow can also activate the brain, spark clear, creative and intelligent thoughts, encourage memory, and stimulate mental processes (Smith). In a psychological sense, yellow brings feelings of happiness and increases perceptiveness, self-confidence, and optimism. It aids in discernment, good judgment, organization, and understanding (Think Quest). However, a dull yellow can bring feelings of fear. Those who favor yellow generally tend to be adventurous, shrewd, and carry a strong sense of humor.
They can often shun responsibility due to their freedom-loving personalities, but are usually clear and precise thinkers who have a good outlook on life (Bond). As one of the three color channels, green occupies more space in the spectrum visible to the human eye than most colors. Green represents nature, health, abundance, wealth, good luck, growth, peace, and clarity. Green can help acquire physical equilibrium and relaxation, and has been shown to be beneficial to the heart. It also relaxes muscles and induces slower, deeper breathing (Smith).
Psychologically, green has a tranquilizing and balancing effect. It brings about comfort, laziness, relaxation, and harmony. It can also alleviate nervousness and anxiety, and offer a sense of renewal and self-control (Think Quest). Surveys show that Green is America’s second favorite color (Pawlik-Kienlen). It usually a color liked by those who are gentle, sincere, and reputable. However, their tendency to be too modest and patient can lead to their exploitation. They are generally community-minded people who prefer peace at any price (Bond). Blue is the last of the three color channels.
It is closely associated with spirituality, melancholy, cleanliness, wisdom, sadness, trustworthiness, and commitment (Nicholson). Being at far ends of the color spectrum, the color blue has almost entirely opposite effects of the color red. Blue decreases appetite, breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. It also regulates sleep patterns, keeps bone marrow healthy, and stimulates the pituitary and thyroid glands and causes the production of calming chemicals. Blue brings feelings of calmness and relaxation. It can also eliminate insomnia, aid intuition, and increase mental clarity and control (Smith).
However, an excessive amount of blue can be depressing and saddening (ThinkQuest). Surveys prove that the color blue, being the least gender specific, is labeled as “America’s Favorite Color” (Pawlik-Kienlen). People whose favorite color is blue are typically preserving, sensitive, and self-controlled. Even though they can be worriers who are often cautious, they are faithful and have steady character (Bond). Purple is the majestic color of mystery, creativity, unrest, and royalty (Nicholson). Being the mixture of red and blue, the effects of the color purple contain elements from those of both red and blue.
Physiologically, purple can alleviate skin conditions; suppress hunger, balance metabolism, and calm the mind and nerves. It can also be perceived as an antiseptic and a narcotic (Smith). Psychologically, purple increases creativity, intuition, imagination, and sensitivity to beauty, high ideals, spirituality, and compassion. It can balance the mind, cleanse emotional disturbances, and combat states of shock and fear (Think Quest). Purple is the favorite color of adolescent girls. Those who prefer purple over all the other colors tend to be artistic, individualistic, fastidious, and witty.
They can become aloof and sarcastic when misunderstood, but are generally unconventional, tolerant, and dignified (Bond). Pink is associated with youth, romance, free spirit, lightheartedness, love (Nicholson). Being a lighter tint of red, many aspects of red are evident in the color pink. Pink can stimulate energy and help muscles relax. Like red, it also increases blood pressure, respiration, heartbeat, and pulse rate. Pink offers feelings of calmness, protection, and a sense of nurture. It encourages action, reduces erratic behavior, and sparks a desire to be carefree (Smith).
Embodying the gentler qualities of red, pink represents unaggressive sensuality and unselfish love. People whose favorite color is pink are often charming, maternal, and gentle. However, they tend to desire a sheltered life and require affection, “perhaps wanting to appear delicate and fragile” (Bond). Brown is an organic color that represents reliability, approachability, the natural world, and connections with the Earth (Nicholson). It provides a sense of orderliness, security, stability, and wholesomeness. It also conveys withholding emotion and feelings of retreating from the world (Smith).
Those who like the color brown are generally steady, conservative, conscientious, and dependable. They may be tactless and inflexible, but they are responsible and kind (Bond). Black, white, and gray are not considered colors, but are shades. Although they elicit no physiological effects, they still bring about psychological changes. Black represents authority, power, emptiness, sophistication, silence, and death (Nicholson). It evokes strong emotions and sense of potential and possibility. Black produces feelings of passiveness, emptiness, and being inconspicuous (Smith).
Those who like black want to give a mysterious appearance, which indicates a suggestion of hidden depths and inner longings (Bond). White represents purity, neutrality, and safety (Nicholson). It aids mental clarity, encourages the elimination of clutter, purifies thoughts and actions, enables fresh beginnings, and offers a feeling of freedom and openness (Smith). However, an overabundance of white can bring feelings of separation, coldness, and isolation. People who like white indicate a desire for perfection, simplicity, and a recapture of lost youth and freshness (Bond). Gray is the shade in-between black and white.
It is associated with dignity, conservativeness, control, independence, and authority (Nicholson). Gray increases independence, self-reliance, evasion, non-commitment, and lack of involvement (Smith). It is unsettling and creates a sense of high expectations, separation, and loneliness. Those who like gray are hard-working and often search for composure and a steady life with few ups and downs (Bond). The effects and associations of a color vary from person to person subjectively. Changes in the general effect of a color depend on some one’s personality, experiences, culture, and memories.
Through a subjective perspective of color, a negative association with a color could cause undesirable effects and stir distaste towards that color. For example, if you receive a heartbreaking letter sealed in a green envelope, green may now be your least favorite color due to a new subconscious association with heartbreak and sorrow. In Elliot and Niesta’s study on the relationship between attraction and the color red, they also concluded that “Although red enhances positive feelings in this study, earlier research suggests the meaning of a color depends on its context.
For example, Elliot and others have shown that seeing red in competition situations, such as written examinations or sporting events, leads to worse performance” (Science Daily). In a study conducted by UC Berkley, researchers found that people’s color preferences were linked to their experiences. “To conduct their studies, the researchers had four different groups perform four different tasks – rating their color preferences, recording the objects they associated with each color, rating how they felt about each object or matching an object to a color” (Rachel Banning-Lover “Study Links Color Preference to Experiences”).
They found that color preference was highly shaped by experience. For example, one subject stated that their favorite color was pink, and then later admitted to having fond memories in her sister’s pink bedroom, which would produce a positive association with the color pink. The researchers also discovered a link between school spirit and color preferences. Those who attended Berkley generally preferred their own school colors, blue and gold, over red, Stanford’s school color. There has also been cross-cultural evidence that creates varying effects of color.
“Cross-cultural differences can occur in two ways – different cultures may have different objects that influence individuals’ perceptions of certain colors, or two cultures may have the same object but may associate different feelings with that object” (Banning-Lover). For example, somebody from France may feel energized around navy blue—although blues are typically calming—due to the widespread use of the color in their country. Personality is a big, if not the biggest, impact on somebody’s preference and perception of a color.
In general, extroverts or those with energetic personalities are drawn to richer, warmer colors, while introverts or those with relaxed personalities prefer cooler, more subtle colors (Bond). Colors that are found in certain areas of our everyday lives have a reason for being there. Understanding the objective effects of colors, many places have used certain colors to subconsciously manipulate the public into feeling or acting a desirable way, most of the time without them even realizing it.
Red is commonly used in restaurants, both fast food and sit-downs, due to its ability to increase the appetites of its customers and therefore increasing their likelihood of buying more food. Orange is the color of most traffic cones and construction signs. Used to grab drivers’ attention, orange increases their awareness to prevent accidents. Green lights are often used in forensics due to its ability to incite a confession from criminals more than any other color of light. With its strong connection with the Earth, green is also used to promote environmentalism.
Blue is commonly used in hospitals to calm patients. Research also shows that people are more productive in blue rooms, for example, weightlifters are able to lift heavier weights in blue gyms (David Johnson “Color Psychology”). Pink is proven to reduce erratic behavior, and is therefore used in many prison holding cells (Think Quest). Due to its ability to tranquilize, sports teams sometimes paint the locker room of the opposing team pinks so their opponents will lose energy. White symbolizes neutrality and is used for truce flags. It is also worn by doctors and nurses to imply sterility (Johnson).
The roots of studying the effects of color can be traced back to ancient cultures, such as the Chinese and Egyptians. They practiced “chromotherapy, or using colors to heal. ” For example, “blue was believed to soothe illness and treat pain,” while “yellow was thought to stimulate the body” (Cherry). Just like color psychology received much skepticism in ancient times; it still receives much skepticism today. No matter how unaware we are of the physiological and psychological effects of color, there is no doubt that color has a huge impact on our lives, playing a role in moods, decisions, sensations, and much more.