Our environment, culture and upbringing conditions us to associate different colors with particular things. For example, purple brings to mind royalty, wealth and perhaps wisdom and religion; red we associate with danger or as a warning; pink is the color of love and romance; white is purity, cleanliness and sterility and so on.
Color is actually light, carried from the sun in waves and is part of the same electro-magnetic spectrum as x-rays, radio waves and the like. Light is the only part of this spectrum visible to humans however. When light is perceived by the eye, the retina converts it by electrical impulses to be received by the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that governs metabolism, appetite, behavioral patterns, sleep and body temperature.
Color psychologists claim that it is the combination of fundamental physical perceptions of light and how it is received by the brain (which are universal to all humans regardless of tone or shade of the color in question), along with conditioning, personality type and color combinations that affect our response to color. This would explain the subjectivity of reaction to color and why people respond differently despite some common reactions.
Red – we naturally associate this color with anger as in ‘seeing red’. It is the color to denote danger, love and ironically war. Red can actually increase our heart rate and therefore increase our body temperature. Red can be used effectively in advertising as it enhances memory recall and heightens our attention to detail. It is thought that as red can heighten aggression, it is best to avoid when needing to negotiate.
Pink – pink is a tranquilizing and calm inducing color hence its use previously in police cells and prisons. However, further studies have shown that pink only works this way on our initial perception of it and over time can actually have the opposite effect.
Blue – as blue is on the opposite side of the color wheel to red it makes sense that it has the opposite effect. So do the colors of light affect pulse? It can lower the pulse rate and the body temperature which may be why we automatically think of blue as a cold color. Blue has also been shown to promote creativity. In one interesting study, weight-lifters performing in a blue room consistently lifted greater weights than in other colored rooms. As blue stimulates the body to release calming chemicals it is suggested as a color for those with high anxiety levels.
Green – ‘green’ with envy and the use of green to describe some-one who is naive or new are two common expressions. Green is thought to relieve stress and anxiety and lowers the heart rate. It is traditionally used as a color in rooms where actors and performers wait before going on-stage – hence ‘green room’. Research has found that green can enhance a persons reading ability and word comprehension. When a transparent sheet of green was placed over the reading matter in the study, the results were increased speed and heightened understanding. As green can increase concentration and attentiveness it is sometimes used in schools.
Yellow – many people associate this color with cheerfulness and happy moods and as such has been recommended for people suffering with depression. However, studies have shown that yellow can trigger frustration and irritation. Babies cry more often and tempers are lost more often in rooms painted yellow, more so than any other color. Yellow is the most difficult color for the eye to absorb but it is this very fact that makes it a good color for enhanced concentration especially it would appear when used in less overpowering shades. Yellow can stimulate the intellect and improve attentiveness. Yellow can also increase the body’s metabolic rate.