By: Lisa Philippart

Have you ever felt anxious in a room painted yellow? When you see blue, do you feel calm and relaxed? Artists and designers know that color can dramatically affect mood, feelings, and emotions. Color is a powerful communication tool and is often used to influence mood, signal action, and even influence biological reactions. For example, certain colors have been linked to raising blood pressure, increasing metabolism, and even causing eyestrain. In 1666, Sir Isaac Newton discovered that when pure white light passes through a prism, it separates into all the visible colors. Each of these colors is comprised of a single wavelength that cannot be separated further into other colors. Newton also demonstrated that light could be combined to form other colors. For example, red light mixed with yellow light creates an orange color. Even though we see colors everywhere, little theoretical or empirical work has been conducted on color’s influence on psychological functioning. Yet despite the lack of research, the concept of color psychology has become a hot topic in marketing, art, and design.

Your feelings about color are often deeply personal and rooted in your own experiences and culture. For example, in Western countries, white represents purity and innocence. But in Eastern countries, white is seen as a symbol of mourning. While perceptions of colors are somewhat subjective, there are some color effects that have universal meaning. Colors in the red spectrum (reds, oranges, and yellows) are known as warm colors. These warm colors evoke emotions of friendliness and comfort as well as feelings of anger and hostility. Colors on the blue spectrum (blue, purple, and green) are known as cool colors. These colors are often described as calm, but can also bring to mind feelings of sadness or irrelevance. In several ancient cultures, such as the Egyptians and Chinese, color psychology (chromotherapy) used color as a healing agent. Chromotherapy is sometimes referred to colorology. In fact, colorology is still used today as a holistic treatment. Blue is used to soothe illness and treat pain. Yellow is thought to stimulate the nerves and cleanse the body. Red is believed to stimulate the body and mind and increase circulation.

Most psychologists view color therapy with skepticism. Researchers have demonstrated, in many cases, that the mood-altering effects of color may only be temporary. For example, a blue room may initially cause feelings of calm, but that effect dissipates over time. However, research has shown that color can impact people in surprising ways. Warm-colored placebo pills were reported as more effective than cool-colored placebo pills. Red causes people to react with greater speed and force. Black uniforms are more likely to receive penalties. Interest in the subject of color psychology is growing, but there are more questions being raised than answers given. How do color associations develop, and how powerful are those associations on real-world behaviors? Can color be used to increase productivity in the workplace? Do certain personality types prefer certain colors? What colors have an impact on consumer behavior?

Color can play an important role in conveying information, creating certain moods, and even influencing decision-making. Color preferences can also exert an influence on the objects people choose, the clothes they wear, or the décor they place in their environments. These choices are often made based on the mood or feelings desired. 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.

See the accompanying chart for color psychology effects:

Green - Nature, safety, envy, luck
Blue - Productivity, calmness, sadness, stability
Red - Love, passion, anger, power
Black - Mystery, unhappiness, boldness, power
White - Peacefulness, cleanliness, emptiness, innocence
Yellow - Warmth, brightness, energy, attention
Purple - Wealth, royalty, mystery, imagination
Brown - Nature, isolation, security, strength
Orange - Energy, enthusiasm, attention, happiness
Pink - Calmness, romance, nurturing, kindness
By: Lisa Philippart
Licensed Professional Counselor

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