The spectrum of psychological effects of colour

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  • Red has longest wavelength and is therefore a powerful colour. It grabs our attention first because it has the effect of appearing to be nearer than it is. Its effect is mainly physical; it stimulates us and raises the pulse rate, giving the impression that time is passing faster than it is. Our raised digestion due to an increased metabolism also makes us more hungry and so it is a common colour scheme in restaurants. Red is strong, and very basic. Pure red is the simplest colour, with no subtlety.
  • Orange, as a combination of red and yellow, stimulates reaction to both the physical and the emotional. It focuses us on items of physical comfort including food, warmth, shelter etc., and sensuality. It may also negatively focus on deprivation, which is more likely when complimented with another colour of negative connotations, such as black. Equally, too much orange suggests frivolity and a lack of serious intellectual value.
  • Yellow has a relatively long wavelength and essentially stimulates. Yellow is the strongest colour in terms of stimulating emotion, and thus psychologically. Yellow can lift our spirits and our self-esteem; it is the colour of confidence and optimism. However, yellow can also create feelings of frustration and anger. Whilst considered a cheerful color, people are more likely to lose their tempers in yellow rooms. Moreover, an excessive exposure to yellow can see a decline in self-esteem, giving rise to fear and anxiety.
  • As Green  strikes the eye without a need for the eye muscles to adjust, it is perceived as restful. It is situated in the centre of the spectrum and therefore the colour of balance. When our environment contains an abundance of green, it indicates the presence of water, and little danger of famine, so we are reassured by green on a primitive level. Green is thought to relieve stress and helps heal; studies show that those who inhabit a green work environment experience fewer stomach aches.
  • Blue is often described as peaceful, tranquil, secure and orderly. It affects us mentally, in opposition to the physical reaction we experience to red. However, it can have physiological effects such as lower the pulse rate and body temperature. Similarly, blue objects do not appear to be as close to us as red ones. Blue is often used to decorate offices because research shows that people are more productive in blue. Strong blue shades cause clear thought while lighter, soft blues have the ability to calm the mind and thus aid concentration.  Research has consistently showed blue to be the world’s favourite colour. However, it can be perceived as cold and unfriendly.  It can also create feelings of sadness or aloofness.
  •  Purple (indigo/violet) holds the shortest wavelength. It is highly introvertive and so can encourage deep contemplation or meditation. It has associations with royalty and usually represents the finest possible quality in advertising. As the last visible wavelength before the ultra-violet ray, it presents associations with time, space and the cosmos. As it does not often occur in nature, overexposure to purple creates an artificial image.Research findings into the psychology of colour (chromology):
  • Warm-coloured placebo pills have been reported as more effective than cool-coloured placebo pills.
  • Installing blue-coloured streetlights can lead to a reduction of crime in localised areas.
  • The temperature of an environment can play a role in colour preference: people who are warm tend to list cool colours as their favourites, and people who are cold prefer warmer colors.
  • Certain colours can have impact on performance as exposure of students to the colour red before an exam has led to a negative impact on exam performance.
  • The colour red can also cause people to react with elevated speed and force.
  • Historical data suggests that sports teams that had mostly black uniforms were more likely to receive penalties and that students were more likely to associate negative qualities with a player wearing a black uniform.


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