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.
Poor quality sleep is becoming increasingly prevalent in modern society and is linked with increased risk factors for obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
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.
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.
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
These steps were taken based on the claim that blue light could make people less impulsive and more calm, but there is little scientific evidence yet to support these claims: a three-year study (forthcoming) by Nicholas Ciccone, a PhD researcher in our group, found inconclusive evidence for the effect of coloured lighting on impulsivity.
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.
I lead the Experience Design research group at the University of Leeds where we have a lighting laboratory especially designed to evaluate the effect of light on human behaviour and psychology.
However, we now know that some retinal ganglion cells respond to light by sending signals mainly to a central brain region called the hypothalamus which plays no part in forming visual images.
Light sensitive cells known as cones in the retina at the back of the eye send electrochemical signals primarily to an area of the brain known as the visual cortex, where the visual images we see are formed.
Recent research by the group has found a small effect of coloured light on heart rate and blood pressure: red light does seem to raise heart rate, while blue light lowers it. The effect is small but has been corroborated in a 2015 paper by a group in Australia.
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.
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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.
White: As many of our readers have suggested, the color white can feel fresh and clean. The color is often used to evoke a sense of youth and modernity. Black: Our readers often describe black as a “powerful” color, which might be the reason why black is the most popular color for luxury vehicles.
People often describe the color as sexy, powerful, mysterious, and even ominous.Silver: It’s the third most popular color for vehicles and linked to a sense of innovation and modernity. High tech products are often silver, so the color is often linked to things that are new, modern, and cutting-edge.
Red: Dreaming of a red vehicle? Red is a bold, attention-getting color, so preferring this type of car might mean you want to project an image of power, action, and confidence.Blue: People often describe blue as the color of stability and safety.
Driving a blue car or SUV might indicate that you are dependable and trustworthy.Yellow: According to the experts, driving a yellow vehicle might mean that you are a happy person in general and perhaps a bit more willing than the average person to take risks.
Gray: The experts suggest that people who drive gray cars don’t want to stand out and instead prefer something a bit more subtle.
Why is color such a powerful force in our lives? What effects can it have on our bodies and minds?
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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.
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.
Elliot, AJ & Maier, MA. Color psychology: Effects of perceiving color on psychological functioning in humans. Annual Review of Psychology. 2013;65:95-120.
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There is some concern that the excessive use of smartphones and tablets in the late evening can affect sleep quality, because they emit substantial amounts of blue/green light at the wavelengths that inhibit the release of melatonin, and so prevent us from becoming drowsy.
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.
Like the ear, which also provides us with our sense of balance, we now know that the eye performs two functions.
Certain colors have been associated with increased blood pressure, increased metabolism, and eyestrain.
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
However, the existing research has found that color can impact people in a variety of surprising ways:
“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.”
As a result of the success of these lights (suicides fell by 74 percent at stations where the blue lights were installed), similar coloured lighting has been installed at Gatwick Airport train platforms.
Red makes the heart beat faster. You will frequently find this and other claims made for the effects of different colours on the human mind and body.
It is clear that light, and colour specifically, can affect us in ways that go far beyond regular colour vision.
“Given the prevalence of color, one would expect color psychology to be a well-developed area,” researchers Andrew Elliot and Markus Maier have noted.
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Of course, the color selections we make are often influenced by factors including price, selection, and other practical concerns. Not only that, but color preferences can also change in time. A person might prefer brighter, more attention-getting colors when they are younger, but find themselves drawn to more traditional colors as they grow older. The personality of the buyer can play an important role in color selection, but buyers are often heavily influenced by factors such as price as well as availability.
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.
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.
Exposure to light in the morning, and blue/green light in particular, prompts the release of the hormone cortisol which stimulates and wakes us, and inhibits the release of melatonin. In the late evening as the amount of blue light in sunlight is reduced, melatonin is released into the bloodstream and we become drowsy.
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.
Select a color below to learn more about the possible effects and find reactions from other readers:
Kida, TE. Don’t Believe Everything You Think: The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make In Thinking. New York: Prometheus Books; 2006.
Your color preferences why buying items might say something about the type of image you may be trying to project. Color preferences, from the clothes you wear to the car you drive, can sometimes make a statement about how we want other people to perceive us. Other factors such as age and gender can also influence the color choices we make.
So how exactly does color work? How is color believed to impact mood and behavior?
Similarly, there is published data that show that exposure to bright, short-wavelength light a couple of hours prior to normal bedtime can increase alertness and subsequently affect sleep quality.
That’s one effect of blue/green light, but there is much more research to be done in order to back the many claims made for other colours.
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.
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.
The increasing availability and use of coloured lighting that has resulted from advances in LED technology has added to the need to carry out rigorous research in this field, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate claims for the effects of colour that are supported by data, from those that are based on intuition or tradition.
What this means is that there is clearly an established physiological mechanism through which colour and light can affect mood, heart rate, alertness, and impulsivity, to name but a few.
Stephen Westland, Professor, Chair of Colour Science and Technology, University of Leeds.
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.
The lighting system is unique in the UK in that it can flood a room with coloured light of any specific wavelengths (other coloured lighting usually uses a crude mixture of red, green and blue light).
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.
For example, purchasing a white vehicle might be less about wanting people to think that you are young and modern and more about the climate you live in; people who live in hot climates typically prefer light colored vehicles over dark ones.
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.
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The physiological mechanisms that underpin human colour vision have been understood for the best part of a century, but it is only in the last couple of decades that we have discovered and begun to understand a separate pathway for the non-visual effects of colour.
Similar studies are underway in our laboratories to explore the effect of colour on creativity, student learning in the classroom, and sleep quality.
The retinal cells that form the non-image-forming visual pathway between eye and hypothalamus are selectively sensitive to the short wavelengths (blue and green) of the visible spectrum.
The hypothalamus is a key part of the brain responsible for the secretion of a number of hormones which control many aspects of the body’s self-regulation, including temperature, sleep, hunger and circadian rhythms.
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
For example, this non-image-forming visual pathway to the hypothalmus is believed to be involved in seasonal affective disorder, a mood disorder that affects some people during the darker winter months that can be successfully treated by exposure to light in the morning.
In 2009 blue lights were installed at the end of platforms on Tokyo’s Yamanote railway line to reduce the incidence of suicide.
Elliot, AJ & Maier, MA. Color and psychological functioning. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 2007;16(5): 250-254.
The discovery of the non-image-forming visual pathway has given a new impetus to research that explores how we respond, both physiologically and psychologically, to colour around us.
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Color psychology suggests that various shades can have a wide range of effects, from boosting our moods to causing anxiety. But could the color of the products you purchase ever say something about your personality? For example, could the color of the car you buy somehow relate to some underlying personality traits or quirks?
O’Connor, Z. Colour psychology and colour Therapy: Caveat emptor. Color Research & Application. 2011;36(3):229-234.
But is there any scientific evidence and data to support such claims?
Color is a powerful communication tool and can be used to signal action, influence mood, and even influence physiological reactions.
Black White Red Blue Green Yellow Purple Brown Orange PinkColor Psychology as Therapy
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“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.”
If you have ever painted, then you have probably noticed how certain colors can be mixed to create other colors.
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