What is color psychology? How do colors influence emotions? What do the colors mean? What do the colors convey in different cultures? The meaning of colors resonates much more than we believe in our daily actions. We tend to associate each tone with certain feelings and various concepts. In this article, we will explain the fundamentals of color psychology, its practical applications and give you useful tips to use it.
Psychology of color: What it is and why is it useful
Color psychology is in charge of investigating how the colors affect us. Colors can change our perception, alter our senses, make us emotional, etc. Colors have the power to improve our memory and attention, and even the power to convince us to make a certain decision. Knowing the meaning of colors is key to a better understanding of our behavior.
The influence of colors can completely change the idea we have of a certain space or element. Imagine for a moment a toy for toddlers. It is very likely that you have thought of a bright colored object with strong contrasts that reflect energy and vitality. If we think now of the same toy, but we paint it black with silver details, what emotion does it give us? Does it seem childlike?
Maybe yes. There is no mandatory color code for each range of elements. However, throughout our life, we are making associations. We rely on what we see every day and we don’t usually stop to think about it. But if we see by chance a blue banana, orange lenses or a fluorescent yellow tree, we can’t help but be surprised.
Color psychology is a field of study in continuous development. This field is essential for professionals such as creative departments, ad agencies, and marketing. However, discovering the meaning of colors can help us choose the right outfit for a special occasion, choose the ideal gift for a friend according to his personality or just feel at home in our own home.
Color Psychology: brain and emotions
Colors influence your emotions and mental health. We are subjected to an immense amount of stimuli and we carry out an infinity of different tasks. Our brain faces many challenges simultaneously. It does not give us time to process everything we grasp through our senses.
Therefore, the associations that we develop on aspects such as colors or shapes save us a great amount of time, since they are processed automatically.
In addition, we are deeply emotional. Colors interact with our memory, awaken feelings and guide reason. They remind us of nice things like those yellow and orange rain boots we had as kids or colors might irritate us for example when we see a blue sweater that was our ex-boyfriend favorite color.
For example, there is no need to know in depth theories about color psychology to be aware that colors such as pink and red are associated with love or romanticism (ergo Valentine’s day). If we enter a store that has this color combinations (inadequate proportions), we are likely to suddenly remember how much in love we are, and maybe even buy something for our significant other.
The following video explains a little about how colors can affect your mood.
What does each color in psychology mean?
This topic has sparked passionate debate. Professionals such as psychologists, sociologists, linguists or market researchers interpret the meaning of colors. They analyze phrases such as “being green with envy” or “feeling blue” examining the most frequent colors according to the different categories of products or doing extensive studies to different populations.
Color Psychology: Meaning of White
It is the color of snow, milk, cotton or wedding dresses. White represents a new beginning, lightness, perfection, purity, peace, innocence, etc. In hospitals, white is one of the predominant colors, it is aseptic and conveys calm.
White shirts are used to create a good impression. It is an immaculate and impartial color. White is neutral and clean. A blank sheet of paper opens you a world full of creative possibilities, but it can also give us some sense of anguish if we don’t know how to use it.
Color Psychology: Meaning of Yellow
The color yellow is linked to positive concepts like optimism, youth, confidence, and creativity. We always paint smiley little faces in yellow and rarely dress in yellow clothes on a sad day. It is the color of the sun, gold or animals as nice as giraffes.
However, yellow is a contradictory color. It is related to betrayal, greed, lies, insanity or warnings. Yellow has also been linked to groups that have been excluded such as Jews, prostitutes or single mothers. It should be noted that in China it is the most valued color and lacks any negative connotations.
Color Psychology: Meaning of Orange
The orange color immediately captures the attention of the person staring. This color is found in several fruits and vegetables, the sunset and redheads. Many of the things we describe as “red” are actually orange, like fire or roof tiles. According to color psychology, orange represents extravagance, energy, transformation, and uniqueness.
Color Psychology: Meaning of Red
Red is the most passionate color, it causes alarms and catches our attention immediately. According to color psychology, red is linked to love, blood, joy, suspense, closeness, war or forbidden. It is shown on the road signs and sale prices. It is the color of urgency.
It is impossible to go unnoticed that is why corrections on any task are made in this color. By the way, wearing this color has effects on sexual attraction, both in people and animals.
Color Psychology: Meaning of Pink
According to color psychology, pink represents sweetness, femininity, delicacy, charm, sensitivity, courtesy, illusion, eroticism, etc. It can be childlike because of its connection with childhood and innocence.
Pink is one of the most popular colors in our culture, some love it and buy everything in this color and others find it irritating, sexist or cheesy. Fuchsia is usually associated with cheap and tacky products.
Color Psychology: Meaning of Purple
Purple is an unusual and enigmatic color. According to color psychology, purple is linked to luxury, religion, and sexuality. It is not frequent in nature and stands out over the rest if used correctly.
It has been related to homosexuality and adopted by feminism. It reflects nostalgia, fantasy, banality, ambition, vanity, etc. It is very ambiguous and has the potentials to be used any way creatively.
Color Psychology: Meaning of Blue
Blue is a favorite among many. According to color psychology, blue symbolizes harmony, fidelity, sympathy, peace, serenity, trust, honesty, communication, etc. It should not surprise us that several social networks (and all types of corporations) use it in their logos.
However, blue can also be cold and distant. It shouldn’t be associated with food since this color makes us suspect the food has expired. It is suitable for homes and rooms that need a relaxing tone.
Color Psychology: Meaning of Green
Green is related to nature, it reminds us of grass, youth, hope, health, fertility, money, etc. According to color psychology, green is fresh and harmonious, peacefulness, youth, and tranquility. People with environmental awareness are called “green”.
However, it is not always linked so positively. It is associated with poison (shown in many Disney movies).
Color Psychology: Meaning of Brown
Brown represents laziness, vagrancy, filth, vulgarity or ugliness. It may seem bland and outdated. Brown is one of the least appreciated colors.
However, it is also the color of wood and autumn, it reminds us of sturdy, warm and pleasant homes. It is also found in foods like chocolate and having a tan tone is highly valued these days. Brown is a color that has a large presence around us and arouses multiple associations.
Color Psychology: Meaning of Gray
According to color psychology, gray mainly symbolizes old age and sobriety. It can be dark, mediocre and bland or related to cover ups such as “gray literature” or “gray areas”.
On the other hand, gray also reminds us of “gray matter” or elegance in fashion.
Color Psychology: Meaning of Black
Like for the color white, there is an open debate about whether black really is a color. According to color psychology, black is closely related to the world of night, power and death. It represents denial, mystery, mourning, hatred, cruelty, etc. People associate black cats with bad luck and nobody wants to have a black day.
However, black is an elemental color in any closet, every girl must have a little black dress. It is functional and very useful for going to an evening party or looking more elegant on an occasion that requires solemness.
In Eva Heller’s book about color psychology, the meaning of these colors is deepened. It has been one of the main sources of this article.
Color psychology: The meaning of colors in different cultures
It has been investigated whether the color classification is a natural process or defined by society. Berlin and Kay, after an analysis carried out in different cultures, affirmed that there were common tendencies in all of them when categorizing the colors. It is believed that there are six main colors around which the rest are grouped. There are several consensuses but still, there are variations when ordering them.
As for the meanings, in our society it is not polite to show dressed in bright colors to a funeral, we prefer dark colors. In Asia, however, mourning is linked to white. This color is better suited to their culture and their idea of reincarnation. However, many years ago in Europe, this color was used by women, who were covered with huge white cloths.
In fact, within our own culture, the meanings of colors can change.
It wasn’t until the 1920s that girls started dressing in pink and boys in blue.
In recent years this custom has been widely criticized. Over time, we are redefining the meaning of colors and creating new conventions that may one day be forgotten or vary according to fashions.
Color meaning can change from one person to another. We can perceive them in a certain way or another depending on our sense of fashion, our emotional state or moment that we are going through.
We don’t all see the same colors, some people might be color blind or the opposite they are able to discriminate even the slightest variation between two colors that are practically the same. People with synesthesia, who are able to hear colors.
However, this does not imply that color psychology is tremendously subjective and changing. If we analyze the context correctly, it can be very useful.
Color Psychology: Applications
Colors have been used to try to cure diseases, they are in every description we make and much has been speculated about the relationship of colors and personality. In fact, we tend to choose colors that fit our mood and that we believe represent us. Here we will tell you the main professional and daily applications:
Color Psychology for Creative People
Perhaps the first professions that come to mind when talking about colors and color psychology are professions related to creativity. Designers (graphic, fashion, interior, etc.), artists, advertising agents, and marketing need to know how to get other people’s attention and communicate with them.
Take for example Tv shows, the color palette of a children’s program differs greatly from an adult one. Making your brand pop in a society that is overwhelmed with images is a complicated mission, but thanks to color psychology it is possible to connect with your target audience and create an emotional impact. Predicting how the audience will react to your message is essential when trying to convey a message correctly.
Color Psychology in Companies
The corporate image of companies is fundamental to their success. If we were to name the colors of a brand and say the category they fall on you would probably guess right if their color psychology was selected correctly. For example, a red can with soda (you probably already know what I’m talking about).
To give us a sense of coherence and impact in our memory, brands condense in their logo their marketing personality through the colors. They are essential marketing strategies. If a food franchise would use different logos each time, we wouldn’t associate them together, and our memory would be disorganized. This in turn, for the company, could be detrimental, since there is no familiarity with their product and they would lose customers.
However, an image is not everything, but it helps in these cases and even more so with the competitive and changing markets today. In fact, we can see color changes in logos depending on the characteristics of their audience and social trends. It is no coincidence that some brands go from their usual colors to green, which as we’ve established is eco-friendly.
Colors are not only important to the public. Employees can increase their well-being and increase productivity if they work in a place where they feel comfortable. A dark work environment with dim lights can cause your employees to be overwhelmed and even generate job stress. Instead, if we paint walls white and put some touches of green and blue and other warm colors, it will become a more welcoming and productive place of work.
Color Psychology in daily life
Colors also affect us when making the most common decisions. Since children, we are asked what our favorite color is and everyone has their personal preferences. Almost everything available is made in several colors to suit everyone’s taste.
When choosing something silly colors don’t really matter, however, there are situations in which we have to contemplate more variables. If we are going to buy a car we have to be sure not to make a mistake. We will spend a lot of time in it, we may fancy something daring like orange, but it is possible that we end up getting tired of it. On the other hand, a car of a more discreet color such as black or navy blue may be barely visible at night. This dilemma is solved after many headaches and hearing lots of opinions.
The color of our clothing says a lot about us, and there are different situations where using a type of color might be more appropriate. Positive Branding managed to put together a great infographic to make sure you are sending the right message with your color clothing and the occasion. Check it out below.
Useful Tips for Using Color Psychology
1- Not always our favorite color is the most suitable for everything
We are likely to be passionate about purple, but perhaps if we have overused it in our bedroom we might start feeling anxious. Before choosing a color always think previously about the function you want it to have and choose accordingly.
2-The context is fundamental to interpret and choose colors
We know the importance of cultural variables and the circumstances of each situation when choosing a color. It’s important to take these things into account when choosing a color. For example, an attorney going for an interview in a bright red suit is highly likely he will not succeed. However, this doesn’t now mean that you shouldn’t try new things or innovate, but try to choose according to the cultural variables and situations.
3- The key is knowing how to combine the colors well
We may have to send a letter or design a poster and have taken into account all the elements of color psychology. Nonetheless, there are more aspects to consider, such as the effect that two colors can have together. For example, yellow and orange represent autumn but if you combine brown, gray and black it may come off as conservative and expressionless.
4- Colors also have to be functional
Many football teams have probably thought about dressing their players in white jerseys, however cleaning it would be a big issue. There are colors more resistant to dirt, others more suitable for heat, some are perfect if we want to go unnoticed, etc. Take into account the function the color is going to have and choose accordingly.
5- Use colors to enhance your memory
If you want to prepare for a test and do not know how to remember all the steps of a certain list, write each point in a different color. Mnemonic rules encourage our learning. In addition, if you have to make a presentation, you can also improve the memory of your audience in this way. Use color psychology to highlight the most important thing you have to say and associate each color with its meaning.
6- Be consistent
If you have a business think carefully about what you want to convey. When you have finished this analysis, evaluate what your brand has to do to achieve it. It is essential that all elements of your company are congruent between them. The help of a professional designer who takes these aspects into account may be essential for rescuing a business or launching it successfully.
Thank you very much for reading this article. And now, will you analyze the meaning of the colors that surround you? Will you put these tips into practice? If you want to know more about color psychology or want to contribute something, please comment below.
Alejandra is a clinical and health psychologist. She is a child specialist with a diploma in evaluation and intervention in autism. She has worked in different schools with young children and private practice for over 6 years. She is interested in early childhood intervention, emotional intelligence, and attachment styles. As a brain and human behavior enthusiast, she is more than happy to answer your questions and share her experience.