Colour Psychology

Colours, Salvatore Vuono,

Although individuals may react differently to colours based on personal preferences and unique life experiences, numerous studies have found that the majority tend to make certain colour associations, such as:

    • Black – powerful, strong, commanding, ominous, depressing
    • Blue – calming, comforting, soothing
    • Gray – weak, depressing, boring
    • Green – refreshing, quiet, natural, calming
    • Orange – distressing, stimulating, exciting
    • Red – stimulating, exciting, aggressive, dominant, dynamic, passionate, dangerous
    • White– weak, passive, pure
    • Yellow – cheerful, stimulating

Research indicates that the following psychological conditions and responses may be affected by colour.

Colours That May Trigger Stress and Irritability

Blues, greens, and blue-greens may reduce stress and irritability, as cool colours induce relaxation (Odon & Sholtz, 2009). Numerous research studies have found that consumers feel more at ease in blue and green retail environments and thus are inclined to stay longer and spend more money (van Hagen et al., 2008). Light- to mid-blue and blue-green in particular are thought to induce serenity (Eiseman, 2003).

If choosing cool colours for relaxation, it’sworth noting that although natural greens usually evoke positive emotions, people tend to react negatively to yellow-greens (Kaya & Epps, 2004).

Many people believe that pink is a soothing colour, but the evidence doesn’t support this. Although a 1979 study found that prisoners in a Seattle facility displayed less aggression when their cells were painted bright pink, a couple of years later a similar study found no tranquilizing effect. However, that hasn’t stopped numerous prisons in North America from adopting pink as their colour of choice (Kwallek, 2005).

Colours That Affect Concentration and Productivity

Evidence suggests that blue may be beneficial for improving concentration due to its calming effect, whereas red may interfere with concentration, decision making, and problem solving (Vodvarka, 1999). In particular, dark blue is believed to encourage meditative thinking, which may help maintain focus (Eiseman, 2003). However, for some, blue or green environments may be too relaxing, and thus counterproductive (Kwallek, 2005).

As for colours that may impair concentration and productivity, research suggests that white offices are associated with lower worker productivity than those of any other colour (Kwallek, 2005), and many people (particularly men) find gray environments stressful and boring (Khouw, 2007). In addition, conducting business tasks in red environments can increase anxiety and stress (Van Hagen et al., 2008).

Interestingly, yellow, which is commonly used for legal pads, post-it notes, and pencils, actually increases the rate of transcription errors, so it’s possible that this colour interferes with concentration or perception (Vodvarka, 1999).

Colours That May Trigger Claustrophobia

There is some evidence that color can trigger claustrophobia. Research indicates that painting rooms blue or green increases the perception of spaciousness, while reds, oranges, and yellows have the opposite effect (Kaya & Epps, 2004).

Colour That Can Enhance Creativity

Although colour can evoke feelings of serenity, it can also inspire feelings of creativity and inspiration. Research suggests that purple, which some believe to be associated with the third-eye chakra (intuitive knowledge, spirituality, and higher consciousness), may boost creativity (Eiseman, 2003).

Colour Therapy for Fatigue, Low Libido

Intense reds, oranges, and hot pinks can stimulate the release of adrenaline, thus increasing energy and possibly sex drive as well. This is supported by research indicating that red in particular increases muscular tension and excitement, though in some cases hostility as well (Odom & Sholtz, 2009; Vodvarka, 1999).

Colour Effects on Weight Control

Because orange stimulates appetite, this colour is often abundant in fast-food restaurants (red and yellow may also have this effect), so those who wish to reduce their weight shouldn’t paint their eating spaces orange or other warm colours. As for the popular belief that the colour blue suppresses the appetite, there is no evidence to support this (Eiseman, 2003).

Colour to Reduce Timidity

Wearing a power colour such as black may increase an individual’s impact and make him feel more assertive (Eiseman, 2003).

Colour Therapy for Sadness

Numerous studies have found that bright, vibrant colours have an uplifting effect (Kaya & Epps, 2004). Yellow in particular is perceived by many as cheerful and optimistic, even more so than other colours to which people usually react positively, such as blue and red (Odon & Sholtz, 2009).

Colour Research Limitations

Many early colour studies failed to take into account the effects of saturation, hue, and brightness, or to examine the results of long-term exposure to colours and the influence of personal preference, experience, and context. For example, red may look festive in one environment and ominous or disturbing in another.

Also, a number of researchers have found differences in colour preferences based on culture, age, and gender. For example, men are more likely than women to favour bright colours, whereas women are more often prefer soft or cool colours (Khouw, 2007). As such, colour psychology is by no means an exact science.

Please note that using colour alone is not recommended for serious conditions such as depression. Those with mental and physical health concerns should consult a qualified medical practitioner.

For more colour psychology, see Research Links Car Colour to Personality. For a full list of psychology articles, visit the main Psychology page.


    • Adams, F.M., & Osgood, C.E. (1973). “A Cross-Cultural Study of the Affective Meanings of Color.” Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 4(2), pp. 135-156.
    • Eiseman, L. (2003). The Color Answer Book. Herndon, VA: Capital Books, Inc.
    • Kaya, N., & Epps, H.H. (2004). “Relationship Between Colour and Emotion: A Study of College Students.” College Student Journal, 38.
    • Khouw, N. (2007). “The Meaning of Color for Gender.”
    • Kwallek, N. (2005). “Color in Office Environments.” Implications, 5(1),
    • Odom, A.S., & Sholtz, S.S. (2009). “The reds, Whites, and Blues of Emotion: Examining Color Hue Effects on Mood Tones.” Missouri Western State University Department of Psychology.
    • Van Hagen, M.; Peters, J.; Galetzka, M., Pruyn, A.T.H. (2008). “The Influence of Colour and Light on the Experience and Satisfaction with a Dutch Railway Station.” Contribution to the European Transport Conference 6-8 October 2008 Noordwijkerhout, The Netherlands.
    • Vodvarka, F. (1999). “Aspects of Color.”
    • Wei, C.; Dimitrova, N., & Chang, S. (2004). “Color-Moon Analysis Based on Syntactic and Psychological Models.” IEEE International Conference on Multimedia and Expo.

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