Am I blue? Seeing red? Got a yellow streak? The colors of our environment have a subtle, unspoken and profound influence on our lives. So much so, that we’ve even named some of our emotions for different colors. This article will concentrate on the effects of color.
It was Sir Isaac Newton who first coaxed colors out of white light and joined the two ends of the spectrum but it was Johann Wolfgang Goethe who investigated the emotional impacts of colors. Goethe divided colors into two groups: the “plus” side of reds and yellows that he felt were exciting and cheerful, and the “minus” side of greens and blues that he felt denoted weakness and unsettled feelings. Some of our emotional perception of colors has roots in our own biology. We have fewer receptors in our eyes to perceive blue, so we see the color as unfocused and calming.
Here’s a litany of some common colors and the emotions often associated with them.
Blue, the color of sky and sea, is associated with trust, wisdom, confidence and faith. This color is most favored among males and is frequently used to promote products associated with cleanliness. Light blue is associated with health, tranquility and understanding. Dark blue represents power, knowledge and integrity.
Green, the most predominate color in nature, symbolizes growth, harmony and freshness. It has a strong correspondence with safety (think “green light”). It is restful to the eye and suggests stability and endurance. Dark green is associated with ambition and greed. With yellow-green, we think of sickness, cowardice and jealousy, with aqua we think of healing and protection and olive green is the tradition color of peace (eg. the olive branch).
Yellow reminds us of sunshine and is associated with happiness, joy and energy. Men may perceive yellow as a “childish” color and associate it with frivolousness. It’s great for attracting attention, which is why it is used for cabs. Dull or dingy yellows designate caution and decay, while light yellow is associated with intellect, freshness and joy.
Red, the color of fire and blood, represents energy, danger, passion and desire. Seeing it increases our heart rate and raises our blood pressure. Perhaps appropriately, it is used to signal danger (red light) and eroticism (red lipstick). Light red represents joy, sexuality and love, pink is associated with femininity and friendship, dark red with vigor, willpower, anger and rage and the color brown denotes stability and masculinity.
Orange, combining the energy of red and the happiness of yellow, is associated with enthusiasm, fascination, encouragement, sunshine and the tropics. My experience is that nobody is neutral about orange. You either love it or hate it. Dark orange can signify deceit and distrust, gold meets up with prestige, illumination, high-quality and wisdom.
Purple combines the stability of blue with the energy of red. It is the traditional color of royalty, connoting power, luxury and ambition. It conveys wealth and extravagance. Approximately 75 per cent of pre-adolescent children prefer purple. Light purple, or lavender, evokes romance and nostalgia, dark purple can evoke gloom and sadness.
Although black can be associated with death, evil and mystery it also summons feelings of strength, elegance and prestige (think formal attire) and its complement, white, is the color of purity.
Emotional responses to color are, in part, affected by our cultural heritage and personal experiences so don’t think of these as necessary responses to the color but rather how many people see them. Next time, we’ll talk about how to combine colors. And if you can find the right colors for your home, I’ll be tickled pink.