Do you like the color blue because it’s calming? Does yellow make you feel happier? Do you use feng shui colors in your rooms to conjure up inner peace? We all have preferences for certain colors, but do colors themselves inherently influence our mood? Or, is it all in our minds?
The ancients and color medicine
Color as a form of healing goes back to the time when the ancient Egyptians and Greeks used colored minerals as remedies. Avicenna (AD 980) a Persian physician and philosopher also used color to heal and “observed that a person with a nosebleed should not gaze at things of a brilliant red color because this would stimulate the sanguineous humor, whereas blue would soothe it and reduce blood flow.”
Color therapy, however, took a backseat during the advent of modern surgery and development of antiseptics until there was a resurgence in the latter part of the 19th century in America. This was due, in part, to physician Seth Pancoast’s publication of Blue and Red Light, which notes the therapeutic use of sunlight passing through panes of red or blue glass: “To accelerate the Nervous System, in all cases of relaxation, the red ray must be used, and to relax the Nervous System, in all cases of excessively accelerated tension, the blue ray must be used.”
Colors and their associations
In modern times, studies have attempted to assess the effect of color on emotion. In a research study, college students were asked to indicate their emotional responses to 3 groups of colors and the reasons for their choices. The color green evoked mainly positive emotions such as relaxation and comfort because it reminded most of the respondents of nature. The color green-yellow had the lowest number of positive responses because it was associated with vomit and elicited the feelings of sickness and disgust.
But are color associations the same for everyone across the globe? Kenneth Fehrman, professor at design at San Francisco State University and interior designer Cherie Fehrman discovered that cultural bias factors into how colors affect us. “Americans tend to think of greens and blues as soothing or calming, primarily because we have been taught to believe this without any scientific basis for the belief. Germans find clear, light colors stimulating, while the Spanish find them calming. Germans find dark blue calming but the Spanish do not.”
Stereotyping colors: a learned behavior
Many studies have shown that color-mood associations definitely exists, although what association differs cross-culturally. In well-researched studies, all colors had been shown to be associated with all moods in varying degrees. There are definitely certain colors that are strongly associated with a particular emotion but there is no evidence to suggest that there is a one-on-one relationship between a particular color and a certain emotion. What actually causes these differences is how strongly one person associates a color with a specific emotion.
Colors can be stereotyped as most people equate red tones with excitement and blue tones with tranquility, but this isn’t a natural response but a learned behavior. From the time we are very young, we learn to associate red with fire engines, stop lights and danger signals that cause us to form an alert or danger association with red. However, colors don’t contain any inherent emotional triggers. It’s more likely that our own changing moods and emotions cause us to interact with color to create preferences and associations that then become a color-emotion response.
Seeing rainbows through life’s dark clouds
Whatever the case, what would life be without its rainbow of colors? For colors inspire, soothe and uplift us. Colors make life all the more beautiful, and have inspired artists and writers throughout civilization. “Colors, like features, follow the changes of the emotions,” says artist Pablo Picasso. At those times when life’s storms rain down turn those blue skies grey, try to spread sunshine