Did you know that colour can influence your behaviour? End even your perception of taste?
Think about it – red hot chilli pepper, Kleen Green, Super Blue Surf, Mello Yello, Aqua Fresh. Seeing Red. Yellow-bellied. Green with Envy.
Marketers, medicine men and psychologists have been using colour for centuries to convey meaning and shape our emotions. Carl Jung was an early pioneer of studies into the psychological properties of different hues and how they “colour” our perception. Brands use warm or cool tones to manipulate messaging and stimulate behaviours through their logos and packaging. Chromotherapy uses the wavelengths in the visual spectrum to treat different conditions such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), depression and cancer, whilst dieticians tell you to ”Eat the Rainbow” for optimal health.
Colour influences us in ways that are not so obvious, and its influence differs between individuals depending on age, gender and culture. For instance, heterosexual men report that a red outfit enhanced female attractiveness, while heterosexual women did not1. Different coloured pills are known to enhance the ‘placebo’ effect with red or orange pills used for stimulants, while depressants are often green or blue2. Green became the colour of medicine in 1914 when a surgeon from San Francisco, Harry Sherman, complained that traditional white reduced his ability to discern anatomical features under scrutiny. 3 He opted for green – the complementary colour to hemaglobin red – as a means to overcome the dazzle of bright white walls under fluorescent lights. Several surgeons and doctors adopted the practice while clothing, equipment manufacturers and architects soon followed suit. Even your preference for a particular colour – according to the Ecological Valence Theory (EVT) 4 – is thought to be associated with your like or dislike of colour-related objects or stimuli such as sunny skies or clear blue water, ripe fruit or rotten food.
Jung’s model of colour psychology is based on six principles, aiming to unlock a language or Code of Colour. These principles state that a colour can carry a specific meaning, that is either learned or biologically innate. The perception of colour causes an automatic evaluation which then incites a colour-motivated behaviour, depending on the context.
Let’s take a look at some of the meanings associated with the different colours:
Red – energy, power, love, excitement, speed, anger
Orange – friendly, cheerful, confidence, enthusiasm
Yellow – happiness, optimism, clarity, radiance
Green – healthy, fresh, nature, money
Blue – peace, trust, loyalty, strength
Purple – luxury, ambition, creative
Pink – femininity, sincerity, innocence, youth
Grey – balance, calm, dignity
Black – grief, formality, mystery, drama
White – purity, cleanliness, peace
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Source1: (Wikipedia, 2021, “Color psychology,” December 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color_psychology )
Source2: (Wikipedia, 2021, “Color psychology,” December 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color_psychology#Medicine-_The_placebo_effect )
Source3: (David Pantalony, 2009, “The colour of medicine,” December 2021, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2742127/ )
Source4: (SE. Palmer and KB. Schloss, 2009, “An ecological valence theory of human color preference”, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2889342/ )