What is Color Psychology?
Color psychology is the study of how color can affect the way that people react and behave. There are more detail and nuance than most articles care to give. I will do my best to fix that here.
The psychology of color isn’t as simple as age or gender (although they do have their own roles to play), but encompasses aspects such as culture, past experiences and current emotional states.
What can you take away from this? Well, color is subjective, we all perceive it in our own way. Most of the things you read, including this article, are based on measurements taken from an average of people probably living in the Western world.
Not the end of the world but important to consider.
Color on Non-color Perceptions (such as food)
Life would be considerably more boring without color, I’m confident everyone who can perceive it will agree. It doesn’t only make things more fun to look at though, color infiltrates all areas of our lives.
Here’s an example to demonstrate this. This research paper on the science of flavor boldly explains that “color is the single most important product-intrinsic sensory cue” for setting expectation about the food that people are about to eat.
Color and mood
Evolutionary aesthetics is a branch of psychology which theorizes that our aesthetic preferences have evolved as a means of survival. This doesn’t just include color, it’s all kinds of things. For instance, it could include shapes, music, and the physical attractiveness of other people.
These traits are thought to have first evolved these preferences during the Pleistocene era, when there were many more pressures involved in staying alive.
This article suggests there is strong evidence to suggest that we develop an average association between colors and the objects they make up. For instance, we like blue because of the sky and its connection with drinking water. However, we dislike brown because of our experiences with rotten food.
Women prefer warm and men prefer cool
Women have a wider vocabulary when they distinguish colors. They will refer to Azure and Periwinkle whereas men will claim the color to be more definitive such as blue. This is clearer when the colors are in the middle of the spectrum, mainly greens or yellows.
Place, Not Race Determines Color Reference
The region people are from is a better determinant for guessing which colors they’ll prefer. Interestingly though, according to this YouGov survey, the 10 countries throughout the world that were questioned all chose blue as their favorite color.
Even after breaking the demographics up between men and women, both genders preferred blue over all of the other colors. Rightly or wrongly we match women with pink but, according to these data, most of the time red, purple or green scored a higher percentage.
In the United States, different ethnicities all chose blue as their favorite color in roughly equal proportions. For white people, it was 30%, black people it was 35%, and for Hispanics it was also 35%.
Children’s color preference can be altered but adults much less so
Adults look at colors they like for longer, however, children don’t pay as much attention to light blues as they do to dark yellows. If I was to guess I would suggest that adults can quickly identify a perceived threat and can let their guard down to instead look at the colors they like the most. Children haven’t built up this knowledge base yet and so concentrate most of their attention on the colors that are more likely to cause them harm. Dark yellow is probably more likely to be poisonous.
My suggestion is to save your child’s stress levels and don’t paint their room dark yellow.
Different light sources affect how different light sources are seen
The type of lighting you have affects the colors you see. The color of an object depends on what wavelengths are being reflected back into your eye, and what reflects back into your eye depends on what wavelengths were being emitted by the light source and how the object absorbs them.
The light incandescent light bulbs release is yellowish. This is because there are more photons in the red and green portions of the spectrum compared to blue and is the reason for incandescent lights bringing out the warmer colors in objects. More red and green in the light source means more red and green can be reflected back into the eye.
Fluorescent lights tend to have more blue available and make objects seem cooler in appearance. They can make the skin seem pasty and ill-looking, which is why incandescent lights took residence in our homes.
Furniture may not compliment each other in the same way if they’re under different light sources or even throughout the day and the hue from the sun alters based on its position to the Earth.
The color of an object affects how it’s perceived in motion
This paper from Nature describes how there is a color appearance shift when one object is moving around an identical one. The object in motion decreases in its saturation but the stationary object increases its saturation. It’s an interesting observation that motion not only affects the color of the moving object but also those nearby.
How Light can affect Learning
The brain is one big pattern processing unit and researchers in 2002 discovered that adding a realistic color to a pattern increased results by up to 10% compared to black and white patterns. If the colors were deemed to be random, there was no noticeable positive effect on recalling the pattern.
The General Model of Color Psychology
- Color can carry a specific meaning
- Color meaning is either based on learned meaning or biologically innate meaning
- The perception of a color causes evaluation automatically by the person perceiving
- The evaluation process forces color-motivated behavior
- Color usually exerts its influence automatically
- Color meaning and effect has to do with context as well
The Color of Placebo Drugs
Another study reviewed 12 published studies looking at how the color could be used to influence the impact reported by patients who had used placebo pills. They concluded that red, yellow and orange had a stimulant effect, compared to blue or green pills that were associated with tranquilizing effects.
Blue lights reduce crime and suicide
Glasgow, Scotland needed to reduce crime in the city center. Normally, street lights have an orange glow as they burn with sodium but the police heard the rumors about the relaxing mood alterations associated with blue colored lights. They decided it was worth installing them and, after the introduction of blue street lights, crime in the area noticeably reduced.
In a similar situation, police in Japan decided to add blue lights in Nara and saw nine percent decrease in crime. Moreover, Keihin Electric Express Railway Co. put eight blue lights on the end of railway stations and recorded a total of zero suicide attempts afterwards (this was in the mid-2000s so I’m not sure how long the statistic lasted).
People like to accent with a highly contrasting color
There was a study that looked at how people would create their own Nike shoes. Typically, they’d give the swoosh and rest of the shoe similar colors on the color wheel (in the example they say blue and dark blue).
As well as this, they noted that most people would stick to a few colors rather than have lots of variation. This is important to note when thinking about designing your home. Keep to a few colors that match, don’t try too much.
I’m hoping by now that I’ve convinced you about how much color influences our lives on a day to day basis.
How then can we make sure we utilize it for the rooms in our homes?
Pick colors that match in rooms that are adjacent to each other and that you can see all the way through to. Floor plans are a pretty good way of visualizing this but, of course, nothing beats walking through you house.
Choosing the color for the largest room that sits in the middle of your home provides you with a focal point to work outward from. This is a great place to start.
Alternatively, if you’re feeling bold, begin painting the room you want to have the most striking color. Got a hue in mind? Don’t worry if not, let’s dig a little deeper.
Note: find a color wheel and make it your best friend.
White light contains every color in it, mashed and squashed together. The primary colors are yellow, blue and red which can be mixed in various ways to produce, again, all other colors. Secondary colors are mixed totogether to make primary colors, tertiary to make secondary, so on and so forth.
What does monochrome mean? Probably not what you assume. It’s not black and white, you lose. Mono means one and chrome means color. One Color. Painting a room one color is and easy to make sure everything matches but, unfortunately, it’s a sure-fire way to make people want to vomit from boredom mixed with feeling like they’re in a psychiatric facility.
To make it easier on the eye, make the room bounce with varying shades, highlights and lowlights. Much easier to look at in a picture but would you want to live in a home like that? Doubt it.
Think of the color wheel as if it’s a round table at school. The children are the colors and they only like to sit next to their best friends.
When creating a room, using colors that sit next to each other on the color wheel, you can guarantee that you’re going to have a class full of well behaved students. These are termed harmonious colors. For example:
Red and pink… harmonious!
Yellow and green… harmonious!
Complementary colors are two colors at opposite ends of the color wheel which combine to cancel one another out to make black or white. When they sit side by side, however, the two colors produce the strongest contrast available to those colors and make each other appear brighter.
From here you can divide the room into triad compliments or split complementary.
Triad complementary colors are three colors that sit evenly from one another around the color wheel. They’re typically vibrant, even when using pale or unsaturated hues. When choosing this approach, allow one color to dominate the setting and the other two to accent in equal measures.
Split complementary colors are again three colors. A color sits at one end of the wheel and the two colors adjacent from its complementary color are selected. There’s a strong contrast that is similar to a normal complementary color scheme, however, there is less strain in the eyes knowing where the hell they’re meant to look.
Split complementary colors are great for beginners because you can be pretty safe in the knowledge that you aren’t going to go too wrong, whilst still maintaining visual balance.
If you think that’s the end then I’m afraid you’re wrong. There’s tetradic and even square. Perhaps that goes beyond the scope of this article though.