How does colour affect your mood?
You’ve just moved into your new room for the next academic year. You’ve decided it’s time to make that room your own, and guess what, your landlord has given you the full reigns (this will never happen), furniture, paint, you name it… The obligatory trip to IKEA (northern European furniture heaven) has occurred; you’ve bought a billy bookcase, some flärdfull scented candles, and a nice tysnes table mirror. But what about those walls? What hue is for you?
Perhaps you should pay heed to the advice of various interior design gurus when choosing that all important colour. Hmm, this choice isn’t as simple as it first seemed. Apparently you aren’t just choosing a simple colour for your room; but also choosing how you affect the mood/psychology of anyone and everyone within that room. How about yellow? Maybe not, they say it’s not very restful and might enhance any distressing emotions. Feeling studious? Then blue is the way forward. Not only is it calming and soothing, but apparently it promotes intellectual thought. Want to slumber in umber? You should feel safe then, brown is very practical and associated with security and stability. Are you convinced? I’m not so sure.
The belief that colour has an effect on emotions (or more broadly psychology) is not a new phenomenon. Many ancient societies are known to have associated colours with various emotional concepts, and colour plays a crucial role in the arts. In ancient Egypt colour was used as a medicinal treatment, and the use of colour in an alternative pseudoscientific therapy, known as chromotherapy, still exists today. Even now marketing and management departments pay close attention to colour, trying to choose the optimum colour that will increase worker productivity or sell the most products.
Most, if not all, cultures have tied various meanings to colour. However associations with colour can differ between cultures. For example in Western culture white is associated with innocence and purity, whereas in some Eastern cultures it is the colour of mourning. Individual cultures can even assign conflicting characteristics to a single colour. In Western culture blue is not only associated with trust, authority, and calmness but also sadness and depression. So far it seems as though links between colours and emotion are tenuous, complex, and most likely influenced by the culture you are raised in. Perhaps you should just paint the walls blue, pray its alleged studious properties help with that first, and be done with it. But is there really any convincing scientific evidence that links a colour or colours to innate (non-learned ie culture independent) psychological effects? Some research is starting to claim so.
Red is one of the few colours that appear to have universal cross-cultural associations. Similar to the western view of blue, it carries multiple connotations. Numerous psychological studies have shown it is associated with danger, dominance and aggression as well as sexual availability. Many have looked at sporting competitions to research reds effects. One study looking at the results of 56 seasons of English football found that teams whose first kits were red were more likely to finish higher in the league table than teams that wore other colours. In another study videos of taekwondo fights between 2 opponents were shown to experienced referees who were then asked to score the competitors. The competitors clothing was digitally manipulated to alter the colour. In close matches it was found that the referees awarded the red competitor 13% more points on average. This doesn’t mean that competing in red at a sporting event will guarantee you victory, but maybe, if the match is a close call, red might tip the balance in your favour.
It is thought this effect of red is due to its role in signalling dominance between individuals. During aggressive confrontations a burst of testosterone causes an increase in facial blood flow causing the face to redden. The increase in redness is thought to cause opponents and onlookers to act in a more submissive manner. Red’s role in signalling dominance isn’t limited to humans. Monkeys such as Mandrills use testosterone-induced reddening to display dominance. In confrontations between males, the paler red male normally stands down. Rhesus Macaque monkeys too have been observed to act submissive or avoid people who wear red. Even fish and birds have shown submissive tendencies when exposed to the potent colour. Some studies have evidence suggesting (at least in birds) this reaction to red is innate (non-learned).
Although most scientific studies have focused on the effects of red, some research has linked blue light to increasing alertness and attention. But before you start changing your sportswear to red and your bedroom walls to blue, remember while colours may have an effect on your (or other peoples) psychology, it’s unlikely that this effect is very big. Also worryingly, recently a study found that the results of over half of psychology studies could not be replicated. Coupled with the fact that lots of research into colours effect on psychology has suffered from various flaws including lack of standardisation (maintaining similar experimental conditions between different studies) and lack of sample size (eg number of volunteers/test subjects), at the moment I would be wary of any rash claims concerning colours.