A&O – MEDIA – VISUAL – Color and its meanings


Notes on Color and Emotions

How are any stimuli associated with emotions?

consider nature and nurture 

 There is extensive scholarship on the psychological and cultural effects of color–some very technical (for example, Valden and Mehrabian 1994;[i] and more recently Wilms and Oberfeld 2017)[ii]   BUT the ArtTherapy Blog provides a relatively simple introduction. Read on, then dig more deeply.  


Color Psychology: The Emotional Effects of Colors

Sha1. What is Color Psychology?

2. Applying Color Psychology to Everday Life
3. Psychological Effects of Cool Colors
4. Psychological Effects of Warm Colors
5. Pyschology of Color for Marketing & Advertising
6. Common Psychological Effects of Colors

What is Color Psychology?

The psychology of color is based on the mental and emotional effects colors have on sighted people in all facets of life. There are some very subjective pieces to color psychology as well as some more accepted and proven elements. Keep in mind, that there will also be variations in interpretation, meaning, and perception between different cultures.

Applying Color Psychology to Everday Life

Did you know your surroundings may be influencing your emotions and state of mind? Do you ever notice that certain places especially irritate you? Or that certain places are especially relaxing and calming? Well, there’s a good chance that the colors in those spaces are playing a part.

In art therapy, color is often associated with a person’s emotions. Color may also influence a person’s mental or physical state. For example, studies have shown that some people looking at the color red resulted in an increased heart rate, which then led to additional adrenaline being pumped into the blood stream. You can learn more about how color therapy works and how light and color might affect us.

There are also commonly noted psychological effects of color as it relates to two main categories: warm and cool. Warm colors – such as red, yellow and orange – can spark a variety of emotions ranging from comfort and warmth to hostility and anger. Cool colors – such as green, blue and purple – often spark feelings of calmness as well as sadness.

The concepts of color psychology can also be applied in everyday life. For example, maybe you’re planning on re-painting your walls or redecorating a house or room with a new color scheme. Well, you might want to consider some of these suggestions about colors and how they might affect your emotions and mood:

Psychological Effects of Cool Colors

Need to be creative? Want help getting those brain synapses firing? Try utilizing the color purple. Purple utilizes both red and blue to provide a nice balance between stimulation and serenity that is supposed to encourage creativity. Light purple is said to result in a peaceful surrounding, thus relieving tension. These could be great colors for a home or business office.

Are you looking for a peaceful and calming environment? You might consider using green and/or blue. These cool colors are typically considered restful. There is actually a bit of scientific logic applied to this – because the eye focuses the color green directly on the retina, it is said to be less strainful on your eye muscles.

The color blue is suggested for high-traffic rooms or rooms that you or other people will spend significant amounts of time. Another cool color, blue is typically a calming and serene color, said to decrease respiration and lower blood pressure. The bedroom is a great place to use these colors as they should help you relax.

Psychological Effects of Warm Colors

Want to create an environment of stimulation or whet people’s appetite? You might consider utilizing the colors yellow or orange. These colors are often associated with food and can cause your tummy to growl a little. Have you ever wondered why so many restaurants use these colors? Now you know why even after people watched the movie SuperSize Me, they said they were hungry.

You do want to be careful about using bright colors like orange and especially yellow. They reflect more light and excessively stimulate a person’s eyes which can lead to irritation. You also probably don’t want to paint your dining room or kitchen these colors if you’re a calorie-counter.

Pyschology of Color for Marketing & Advertising

Marketing and advertising are well-known for utilizing color psychology. The fact that some companies have heavily invested in this type of research and many others have followed through in its use shows they have at enough belief in the concepts of color psychology to implement them in their advertising.

Color is consistently used in an attempt to make people hungry, associate a positive or negative tone, encourage trust, feelings of calmness or energy, and countless other ways.

Most marketing and advertising executives will likely agree that there are benefits to understanding and utilizing the psychological effects of colors. Now let’s take a look at some of the more common traits of color psychology, by some common colors.

Common Psychological Effects of Colors

The following are some common psychological effects of colors in the Western Hemisphere. You can also review the following pages for a more comprehensive list of color meanings and symbolism, including some charts we’ve created that you can download or embed on your site.

Keep in mind that certain shades or tones may result in very different meanings. Also, the context around the color, and even surrounding colors, can have an effect. Think of this as more of a beginning guide to color psychology.

Color Psychology: The Color White

  • purity
  • innocence
  • cleanliness
  • sense of space
  • neutrality
  • mourning (in some cultures/societies)

Color Psychology: The Color Black

  • authority
  • power
  • strength
  • evil
  • intelligence
  • thinning / slimming
  • death or mourning

Color Psychology: The Color Gray

  • neutral
  • timeless
  • practical

Color Psychology: The Color Red

  • love
  • romance
  • gentle
  • warmth
  • comfort
  • energy
  • excitement
  • intensity
  • life
  • blood

Color Psychology: The Color Orange

  • happy
  • energetic
  • excitement
  • enthusiasm
  • warmth
  • wealth prosperity
  • sophistication
  • change
  • stimulation

Color Psychology: The Color Yellow

  • happiness
  • laughter
  • cheery
  • warmth
  • optimism
  • hunger
  • intensity
  • frustration
  • anger
  • attention-getting

Color Psychology: The Color Green

  • natural
  • cool
  • growth
  • money
  • health
  • envy
  • tranquility
  • harmony
  • calmness
  • fertility

Color Psychology: The Color Blue

  • calmness
  • serenity
  • cold
  • uncaring
  • wisdom
  • loyalty
  • truth
  • focused
  • un-appetizing

Color Psychology: The Color Purple

  • royalty
  • wealth
  • sophistication
  • wisdom
  • exotic
  • spiritual
  • prosperity
  • respect
  • mystery

Color Psychology: The Color Brown

  • reliability
  • stability
  • friendship
  • sadness
  • warmth
  • comfort
  • security
  • natural
  • organic
  • mourning (in some cultures/societies)

Color Psychology: The Color Pink

  • romance
  • love
  • gentle
  • calming
  • agitation

From Art Therapy Blog  … 


This is the last installment of our color therapy series: Psychological Effects of Color. You can read the previous installments: Color Therapy & HealingColor Meanings & Symbolism, and download our free Color Meaning & Symbolism Charts.


Look in on Cross-Modal Perceptual Organization in Works of Art(Albertazzi et al 2020), in  iPerception11(4). https://doi.org/10.1177/2041669520950750

“This study investigates the existence of cross-modal correspondences between a series of paintings by Kandinsky and a series of selections from Schönberg music. The experiment was conducted in two phases. In the first phase, by means of the Osgood semantic differential, the participants evaluated the perceptual characteristics first of visual stimuli (some pictures of Kandinsky’s paintings, with varying perceptual characteristics and contents) and then of auditory stimuli (musical excerpts taken from the repertoire of Schönberg’s piano works) relative to 11 pairs of adjectives tested on a continuous bipolar scale. In the second phase, participants were required to associate pictures and musical excerpts. The results of the semantic differential test show that certain paintings and musical excerpts were evaluated as semantically more similar, while others were evaluated as semantically more different. The results of the direct association between musical excerpts and paintings showed both attractions and repulsions among the stimuli. The overall results provide significant insights into the relationship between concrete and abstract concepts and into the process of perceptual grouping in cross-modal phenomena.”


[i] Patricia Valdez and Albert Mehrabian (1994) Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 1994, Vol. 123, No. 4, 394-409 Copyright 1994 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 0096-3445/94/S3.00 Effects of Color on Emotions  

“Emotional reactions to color hue, saturation, and brightness (Munsell color system and color chips) were investigated using the Pleasure-Arousal-Dominance emotion model. Saturation (S) and brightness (B) evidenced strong and consistent effects on emotions. Regression equations for standardized variables were: Pleasure = .69B + .228, Arousal = —.31B + .60S, Dominance = — .76B + .328. Brightness effects were nearly the same for chromatic and achromatic colors. Blue, blue-green, green, red-purple, purple, and purple-blue were the most pleasant hues, whereas yellow and green-yellow were the least pleasant. Green-yellow, blue-green, and green were the most arousing, whereas purple-blue and yellow-red were the least arousing. Green-yellow induced greater dominance than red—purple.

There is a large body of literature on the psychology of color. The research spans more than a century, covers a wide range of interests, and exhibits varying degrees of methodological rigor. The topics of investigation include: (a) color reactions as functions of personality and psychopathology, (b) physiological reactions to color, (c) color preferences, (d) color effects on emotions, (e) color effects on behavior, and (f) reactions to color concepts.”



[ii] Wilms LOberfeld D.   (2017) Psychol Res. 2017 Jun 13. doi: 10.1007/s00426-017-0880-8. [Epub ahead of print]  Color and emotion: effects of hue, saturation, and brightness.    

Abstract.  Previous studies on emotional effects of color often failed to control all the three perceptual dimensions of color: hue, saturation, and brightness. Here, we presented a three-dimensional space of chromatic colors by independently varying hue (blue, green, red), saturation (low, medium, high), and brightness (dark, medium, bright) in a factorial design. The 27 chromatic colors, plus 3 brightness-matched achromatic colors, were presented via an LED display. Participants (N = 62) viewed each color for 30 s and then rated their current emotional state (valence and arousal). Skin conductance and heart rate were measured continuously. The emotion ratings showed that saturated and bright colors were associated with higher arousal. The hue also had a significant effect on arousal, which increased from blue and green to red. The ratings of valence were the highest for saturated and bright colors, and also depended on the hue. Several interaction effects of the three color dimensions were observed for both arousal and valence. For instance, the valence ratings were higher for blue than for the remaining hues, but only for highly saturated colors. Saturated and bright colors caused significantly stronger skin conductance responses. Achromatic colors resulted in a short-term deceleration in the heart rate, while chromatic colors caused an acceleration. The results confirm that color stimuli have effects on the emotional state of the observer. These effects are not only determined by the hue of a color, as is often assumed, but by all the three color dimensions as well as their interactions.      PMID: 28612080   DOI: 10.1007/s00426-017-0880-8