Color Psychology: How Colors Affect Emotions and Behaviors
We often don’t think about the colors that surround us, except maybe when redecorating a room or choosing a new car. But it is color and the psychology of color that is so vital to us navigating the world at work, at play, or simply while enjoying our living space. It has been shown that certain colors can change the way we think, how we behave, and certainly how we feel. Ever wonder why a room painted a bright yellow or white is much more uplifting than one that is painted a drab beige or a dark blue color?
Color is so essential to how we behave that marketing and advertising firms take incredible pains to select the right colors for a corporate logo, branding, or advertisement. Color is the silent communicator that can express how we feel, without words. That’s why we wear black clothes to a funeral, which represents a feeling of loss and sadness, while white is the preferred color for a wedding – a color of renewal and purity.
These same two colors have come to represent not only emotions, but behavior also. That is why the good guys in movies will typically wear white or light colors, and the bad guys will wear black (well, the exception may be action heroes like Batman!)
Color matters in how we recognize the importance of everyday events, such as crossing the street. Red is used for stop signs because red is known to evoke a powerful message of danger or a signal to beware (even the thought of bloodshed). And green lights in traffic give us the go-ahead or a sense of safety. Green, the color of nature, is also thought to be soothing and is often used to represent life.
We will examine how colors affect emotions and behavior and the color psychology of the primary colors red, yellow, and blue, along with the secondary colors orange, green, and purple. You’ll learn how to use color in your surroundings to represent your personality (which is the preferred way you like to think and behave) and maybe even change the way people feel or behave when they enter your home.
What is Color Psychology?
We have discovered that certain colors have specific meanings, connotations, or effects on the human brain as related to how we feel and maybe even what we think or do at that moment. This is the basis of the psychology of color. The study of the meanings that humans have developed for different colors. These meanings can be evolutionary or objective. That is, a part of man’s innate capacity to assign meaning to things in our environment to help support the survival of life. Or, the meanings of color can be purely creative and subjective. That is, each of us have assigned or accepted meanings to colors based on our feelings or emotions.
The human brain operates on wavelengths and frequencies. For example, brain frequencies in the delta range will decrease our awareness and make us sleepy. It is the alpha frequencies that are responsible for human creativity, and it is colors that most change alpha brain waves. Even though it seems as if men react differently to color than women, the basic science is true for both genders.
Color that is transmitted from the eye to the brain will release hormones that affect our emotions – either negatively or positively. And emotions are the primary drivers of our behavior. Some studies have proven that the brains of women and men actually react the same way in response to color, and it is simply how society has programmed each gender to express those emotions and subsequent behaviors that are different.
Whether it be human nature, hereditary, or societal conformity, it is proven that color can elicit certain emotions and behaviors in human beings. Color can influence your mood, making you feel more relaxed. Some colors actually raise our blood pressure or incite the instinct of ‘fight or flight’. Other colors have negative physical effects, such as causing eyestrain or headaches in some people.
Color Theory in Marketing to the Consumer
One of the best examples of how colors affect emotions and behaviors can be seen in how advertising and marketing campaigns with certain colors influence the buyer. Today’s consumers can quickly recognize a brand by its color. Coca-Cola Red, Facebook Blue, and McDonald’s Yellow arches are recognized all over the world.
Facebook’s blue color is so popular and well known that you would think Mark Zuckerberg picked it out specifically for its psychological marketing effects on Facebook followers. But that’s not the truth! Really, Mr. Zuckerberg is red-green color blind and chose the medium-light blue because it is the color he can see the best.
Blue is one of the most popular marketing colors because it causes people to feel calm and relaxed. After choosing the perfect color for an advertising campaign, all that is needed is an easy-to-remember tagline or memorable graphic symbol to make a lasting imprint on the minds of consumers.
So how do colors affect emotions and behaviors? Well, let a child pass by the Yellow Golden Arches of a McDonald’s chain restaurant and see if you don’t get a visceral reaction!
Most all graphic designers will learn color theory as the basis for creating brand messaging. The right colors matched to the right product or service creates a lasting association in the brain. And this is what advertisers want the consumer to do – remember this brand when you decide to shop for this type of product. Certain colors that are associated with certain behaviors, such as red for active, brown for rugged, or silver for elegant, have been shown to prove successful in matching that brand to the company’s target consumer personality.
The Expression of Personality With Color
When you think of behaviors and emotions, remember that these two traits are deeply tied to a person’s personality. If a person has a bubbly and outgoing personality, then they will behave in accordance. They are more social, more talkative, easy to laugh and have fun, and are comfortable meeting new people. This is the personality of an extrovert. Typically, this person’s wardrobe will include a wider range of colors, including bright colors and patterns.
Compare that to an executive who has spent years dedicated to succeeding in the business world. Professionals like this, of any job category, have likely been acclimated to what is deemed right and proper for executives to wear. That is, desaturated or muted colors that represent formality and mostly classic colors like blue, black, brown, and gray. These colors are closer to the grayscale and can be any tint or shade, but most often, business wear colors will not be saturated with lots of white tones. As you can see, color can express whatever personality the person desires.
At home and in our everyday lives, when the colors we wear are of our own choosing, 4 main colors have come to represent 4 major personality types. They are:
- Red – exciting or powerful
- Yellow – fun-loving and free-spirited
- Blue – serious or calm
- White – peaceful and kind
These traits that apply to persons who prefer wearing these certain colors are of course not foolproof, but you can see how color can be tied to personality.
How Different Colors Affect Emotions and Behaviors
The warmth of the color red can elicit behaviors that are passionate, or it can make some people more productive (and even aggressive). That’s why a person may put on a red sweater or other red clothing when they want to be more energetic and seen at an outing. In studies, the color red has been proven to increase sexual desire and even stir up a person’s appetite for food. If you need a pick-me-up color for a room or your wardrobe, then the color red is a perfect choice.
The color yellow is usually associated with behaviors that are spontaneous (but not reckless). Yellow is a color that seems to bring happiness to the brain, which results in uplifted emotions. People who wear yellow typically feel optimistic, but use this color sparingly because too much yellow can be overwhelming. As a warm color, yellow may turn depressed emotions into more hopeful and cheerful emotions.
One of the most popular colors for humans is the color blue. This cool color is often associated with spirituality, and it can make a person feel calm and grounded. Dark blues can help a person behave more professionally and focused, while the light blues make people feel friendly and light-spirited. If you want to feel safe and behave in a relaxed manner, wear your favorite shade of blue!
Orange energizes and motivates. This is why you will find many health clubs incorporate orange or yellow or both in their corporate branding. Orange makes you feel full of vitality and enthusiasm. While it is not a common color for office wear, it is a color to wear when you’re feeling bold. For example, orange and cobalt blue are a striking combination that is lively, yet balanced. While not as overpowering as wearing the color red, wearing orange is like a call to action – you feel ready to tackle the world.
Green, the color of nature, is both refreshing and relaxing. Green is the easiest color for the human eye to process, and for this reason, it is often used in graphic design to add balance and a sense of cohesiveness to a marketing advertisement. Green inspires growth, possibility, and renewal. There is almost no color that green does not complement! For health, wealth, and well-being, use greenery from nature in your home decor, and use the color green to make you feel balanced and calm.
Purple is a very cool color that is often associated with elegance, regality, and formality in home decor and clothing. But purple can also make you feel both creative and productive, which may be a reason why it was the favorite color of one of the most prolific musicians of our time – Prince! Purple is also associated with beauty and luxury, which is why the color is so prominent in the branding of so many beauty products.
Finding a Color to Fit Your Personality
Browse the internet and there are plenty of quizzes that claim to match your personality with the color that is right for you! But there are other ways to choose colors that fit your personality (which is the way you think, feel, and behave). When you stick with your color personality in how you decorate your home, the clothes you wear, and even the color of the car you drive, you will likely feel more at peace and more relaxed.
Here we will explore different ways you can judge which colors move you, relax you, or inspire you in your daily life.
Do you identify strongly with nature and love the great outdoors?
Choose from the rainbow provided by nature – soft greens, medium blues, muted yellows, even the deep orange, gold, and rust colors of fall! Using colors from nature that are subtle and muted is a good choice for women, while men might opt for the darker shades of the same colors, like navy blue, mustard yellow, and hunter green.
Do you enjoy a bit of drama or excitement in your life?
If you like drama, consider either black, red, or white to make your own personal style statement. Of course, the monotone colors black or white can be paired with pops of any other color, and that is the key to wearing black or white successfully – how you accessorize and complement these colors will be key! When it comes to red, there are so many shades that you don’t have to wear an eye-popping candy apple red for excitement. Fire Brick is a darker red tone while Salmon has pink undertones, but both colors are still vibrant.
Are you perfectly happy spending time alone?
For these types of personalities, there is absolutely nothing wrong with neutrals or soft colors. A neutral color can have almost any color for a base, but it will be diluted with lots of white. So, consider light blues, soft pinks, and spring green, along with the more common neutral colors of gray, beige, and cream. When matched with subtle but complementary shades of primary or secondary colors, a neutral wardrobe or home decor can make some people feel more confident in public or cozier at home.
Are you adventurous, spontaneous, or like to try new things?
For these personality types, the entire color spectrum can be used creatively. You may want to mix up your wardrobe colors and prints in a classy way, or go with a basic color palette with pops of really bright colour to make a style statement. Not everyone can pull off the mixed colors and mixed materials style in the home, but when it’s done right, there is a visual excitement that is unmatched.
Do you love to learn and enjoy taking on new hobbies?
Interestingly, people who love to learn tend to prefer colors that are closer to their true wavelength. That is, colors that are not too muted, toned down, or nuanced. So true reds, blues, and greens matched with corresponding shades of white, yellow, or purple make for an environment of learning, thinking, and understanding. At the same time, avoid these color shades when they are too bright or too dark – a medium-toned palette seems to work best.
Using Color to Positively Change Your Life
It is quite possible to change the way you feel or the way you behave by carefully choosing the color of clothing you wear or the colors you decorate your home or office with. For example, wearing all white will make you feel pure and clean. And, your behavior will certainly take into account that, since you’re wearing white, you might be careful about what you are doing.
If you want to feel more enthusiastic or be more productive, try wearing red and/or orange tones. These colors have an energizing effect and tend to stimulate the brain. Certainly, if you want to feel more attractive, men rate the color red as key to increasing sexual drive. There have been many studies on the power of the red, fiery hues. These colors can evoke love, passion, power, or danger.
If your desire is to exude an attitude of strength, then black is the color to make this positive change in your professional life. Black is associated with power, authority, and business intelligence. In formal settings, black can cause a positive behavior change where the person feels more confident and more able to take a leadership role. But beware that in casual environments, black can come off as sad, depressed, or even fearful!
It’s no surprise that bright colors will make you feel happy. If this is the attitude you’re striving for, then try yellow, pink, or white. Even just accents of yellow or pink in your clothing can make a positive difference to how you act. And, some white is always easier to pull off than a completely white outfit. These light colors tend to be uplifting and evoke a positive outlook on life.
If you want to appear intelligent or sharp-witted, then choose from the blue and green colored palettes. It is thought that both these colors can lower your heart rate and instill a sense of calm and serenity. What is really happening when you wear the right shade of blue or green for the occasion is that you’re seen as being reliable and stable. And, since you’re getting these positive vibes from both yourself and others, you tend to be sharper and more coherent.
Should You Avoid Certain Colors?
Yes, since color does affect emotions and behaviors. Well, you might think those colors are those that have a bad reputation for being drab or boring. This includes gray, taupe, and beige. But no! First, colours you should avoid wearing are colors that you don’t like.
Why take the bitter medicine of wearing a purple dress if you hate the color purple? You might not feel confident, pretty, or capable because the thought of wearing purple drains your energy and keeps you in doubt. More than likely, that purple dress will remain in the closet and never be worn.
Some people simply hate to wear bright colors, especially if they tend to be introverted. These types of people are more comfortable with less attention. Reds, yellows, cyan, and pink are simply too bright. Often, this person’s closet may be filled with similar-looking clothes in neutral shades.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with a preference for neutral shades. The only colors suggested to maybe pass on are drab dark browns. The color Opaque Couché for instance, is considered the worst color in the world.
How Color Can Affect Your Living Spaces
It is presently a trend to choose a bold color for the front door of your home. Bold and bright red, soft and calming lavender, deeply saturated Forest Green, and energizing orange are popular choices to welcome guests and add curb appeal to your home. So, why are so many homeowners bending the rules on front door colors that at the time were primarily classic hues of white, brown, or black?
Well, it is a small commitment to adding personality to a home’s exterior, and much safer than painting the entire house in an unusual shade. They say, home is where the heart is, so it is no wonder that the colors we use in our homes will tell a lot about us. The psychology of colors, when used correctly within the home, can not only tell our guests about us, but can also affect the way our guests feel and behave.
That is why very few people will paint an entire room black. A black room will seem small, suffocating, and depressing. This is actually the problem with dark colors for interior painting. To pull off home decorating with dark colors would likely take the expertise of an interior designer to carefully choose not just dark colors, but rich colors. Rich colors include Royal Blue, Emerald Green, Burgundy, and Deep Gold. Often, the wealthy will use these colors to exude a sense of elegance, majesty, or rank.
If you want your guests to feel warm and cozy in your house, then consider a contemporary color palette. Contemporary colors are first of all neutral, like white, black, gray, and brown. But modern contemporary homes will feature these colors in warm undertones like yellow, orange, light blue, or pink. These colors create a sanctuary for your family and a feeling of safety for your guests.
If you’d like a family room that is relaxing and inviting, consider earth tones. Earth tones are not just brown, but include any shade found that you might find in nature, like vibrant and lush greens, sparkling blues, rich browns, deep reds, and burnt oranges. Earth tones, unlike other dark colors, do not create a room that is somber. Instead, when done right, which means using the warm hues of earth, like terracotta, a room can feel elevated and soothing.
And we go back to the extrovert personality – a family that is friendly with many people is flexible, and doesn’t mind taking a risk. This home might go with a bright color palette for its interior decorating. Bright doesn’t mean garish. It is simply colors that are energetic, bold, and still classically coordinated. A room that you want to show passion, maybe the master bedroom, can feature a few red shades.
A game room or family room can be painted in a beautiful Cobalt Blue, while instead of a white or neutral kitchen, this family might choose a kitchen that features mixed materials (copper, stone, ceramic tile, wood, etc.) along with walls painted in a modern shade of classic yellow, mint green, or a steel blue.