The Psychology of Color

The Psychology of Color – How they’re used in marketing and how we perceive them!

August 1, 2017 231 20 No Comments


the psychology of color and how we perceive color

The Psychology of Color!

In 2000, Glasgow, Scotland decided to place blue street lighting up and down their streets as a way to improve the scenery. Later, the city reported that crime decreased significantly in those places lit up in blue.

In 2005, police introduced blue street lighting to a prefecture in Nara, Japan. It was reported that there was a 9% decrease in crime in those blue-illuminated areas.

In Yokohama, Japan, Keihin Electric Express Railway Co. switched out their normal lights for blue lighting at a train station. Before the change, there was always a few suicides a year at that station, but since the implementation of the new lights, no suicides were done at that station.

So, obviously the answer to all our societal problems such as crime and suicide is blue lighting, right? Not quite. There are a number of other reasons as to why crime and suicide rates decreased in those areas, so let’s not jump to conclusions on that end.



However, it is true that color does give your mind a little nudge here and there–a little act of persuasion.

Colors are everywhere. How we see the world in all its hues and shades help shape our perceptions, our emotions, and sometimes, even our actions. This is called the psychology of color.


The Psychology of Color

There are six basic principles when it comes to color psychology:

  1. Color can carry a specific meaning.

  2. This meaning can be developed either through learned experience or because of something biologically innate.

  3. People can automatically perceive colors and evaluate them.

  4. This act of evaluation is the starting point for behavior that is motivated by the color and whatever message that color sent to a person.

  5. Colors can influence people automatically.

  6. Context clues are incredibly important when accounting for color meaning and its effects on human behavior.


Gender Difference in Color

Boys wear blue. Girls wear pink. That’s how it works, right? Actually, did you know that the colors were switched with girls being dressed in blue and boys in pink back in the early 1900s? Back then, pink was considered the stronger color, more suited to a boy whereas blue was a more flattering and daintier color for girls.

gender difference in color

But that isn’t to say that genders don’t prefer certain colors over others. Of course, everyone has their own individual preferences and own individual differences when it comes to what colors they find most appealing. But the research on gender and color preferences show that, in general, there are certain colors that speak more prominently to a specific gender over the other. For example, while blue tends to be the color that both genders seem to favor over other colors, men tend to prefer bold colors such as green and women tended to prefer softer colors with hints of white such as purple.


Color Associations and Effects on Emotions

If you’ve ever redecorated your room or your house, you know that painting the walls and figuring out what color to go with is a rather stressful part of the process. Is red too gaudy? Does blue work well with north-lit rooms? What if I want it to feel cozy, maybe green will do that? Color has the ability to create emotions, or at the very least, trick your brain into feeling something.

  • Red: Strong, basic, stimulating, lively, exciting, aggressive, demanding. Culturally, red can be used to indicate love or passion, and in many Asian cultures red is the symbol of life.

  • Blue: Intellectual, competent, thoughtful, calm, restful, productivity, cold, aloofness. A majority of people’s favorite color is blue, and in fact, even the world’s favorite color seems to be blue between the skies and the seas.

  • Green: Growth, nature, conservatism, masculine, calming, harmony, boredom, envy, blandness. Green, because it is straight in the center of the color spectrum, gives off a sense of balance and can give a calming, restful sense to the eyes.

  • Yellow: Optimism, confidence, extraversion, creativity, fear, depression, irrationality. Serotonin, the chemical in the brain that plays a very important role in mood regulation, is released when in the presence of the color yellow. It can be overpowering when too much of it is used thus bringing out bad tempers and emotional instability but it has the power to create excitement, capture attention and bring about optimism.

  • Orange: Fun, warmth, passion, security, frivolity, immaturity, deprivation. Unlike blue which provided a sense of calm, orange is the complete opposite. It is stimulating and flamboyant.

  • Purple: Spirituality, awareness, luxury, sophistication, honesty, introversion, decadence. Purple has been considered a royal color from even way back then. Robes of the kings and queens of old were often purple to indicate wealth and prosperity, and even now there is a high preference for the color amongst young girls.

  • Brown: Seriousness, nature, support, heaviness, stability, unsophistication. While brown is barely a step away from black, brown is treated more positively as the earth that surrounds us is predominately brown which gives a sense of earthiness.

  • Pink: Tranquility, sexuality, love, femininity, emasculation, inhibition. Studies have shown that criminals are often housed in pink cells because of the fact that it’s the most calming of all the colors. While red might stimulate and excite, pink does the opposite, soothing and calming instead.

colors used in branding

Colors in Branding

Brands can effectively establish a strong identity that garners a large and loyal fanbase through color such as Coca-Cola’s red versus Pepsi’s blue branding colors.


Brand personality is defined as “the set of human characteristics associated with a brand.” In other words, people personify brands, attributing human characteristics and personalities to brands. This allows them a way of expressing their own personalities and sense of identity. Does this seem a bit odd to you? You’re probably thinking, why would people use human characteristics to describe branding, but think about the times when you have used a singular brand over other brands because it makes you feel good about yourself for whatever reason.


In study conducted by Aaker in 1997, it was found that assigning personalities to brands in a research setting was more than just simply matching the innate characteristics and personality types of people to a brand. For example, people buy brands that are associated with sincerity, excitement and competence because they themselves have those personality types. However, people buy brands that are considered rugged or sophisticated, not necessarily because they are rugged and sophisticated, but that they desire to be so.


For example, a lot of people buy Absolut vodka because the brand personifies a ‘cool, hip’ characteristic that people who want to be considered ‘cool, hip’ will buy into. Then there are people who will snub certain brands because they deem the brand not worthy and thus they don’t want their self-identity to be associated with that brand.


Research has shown that warmer colors, hues with longer wavelengths such as reds, oranges, yellows, can “induce states of arousal and excitement…and is considered lively, energetic, extroverted and sociable.” Therefore, there are five core dimensions that are associated with a brand’s ‘personality’:

  • Sincerity: Considered to be sincere and down-to-earth as well as full of cheer and sentimental. Brands who are considered to be sincere are considered to be wholesome and family-oriented.

  • Excitement: Considered to be daring and trendy. These brands basically are the “cool kids” personified. They are unique, independent and contemporary.

  • Competence: Considered to be hard-working and almost corporate-like. These brands show leadership characteristics and all the adjectives that are associated with the term ‘leader.’

  • Sophistication: Considered to be glamorous and charming. Think of the bourgeoisies and the type of styles that they would associate themselves with and these are the types of brand that are considered to be sophisticated.

  • Ruggedness: Considered to be masculine and tough. Brands that personify ruggedness often convey a sense of the outdoors and earthiness.  


However, don’t make the mistake of assigning a color to every single brand out there and calling it universal, because the truth is that colors that support the personality behind the brands are much more accurate than stereotypical assigning of color associations. More than that, using the context behind the brand–the emotions, the purpose and the image of a brand–as a way to assign colors to branding is essential and worth noting.


How Does Marketing Take Advantage of Color Psychology?

Have you ever noticed just how many shades of red are in that fast-food restaurant you frequent? If you have and the answer is a lot, then you’ve just been low-key manipulated, my friend. The color red has been found to increase appetite as well as affect our metabolism. Look around the corner of your block and most likely there’s a McDonald’s there, right? Now, take a look at all those pretty red colors. Are you feeling hungry yet? The other color that McDonald uses is yellow which is another popular choice amongst fast-food chains. Yellow is easily noticeable, capturing your attention and encouraging you to notice and take part in what it is offering. Thus restaurants are easily able to generate sales, and all from manipulating you via shades of yellow and red.


On the other hand, formal restaurants have different ways of reaching their goals. Gaudy reds and yellows are usually not in their vocabulary because they much prefer comforting blue. Relaxing their customers is the sales strategy for formal restaurants, and it makes sense when you think of it this way: the longer one stays at a restaurant, the more likely they’ll buy appetizers, large meals, wine, desserts and then stay for coffee.


In a study “Exciting Red and Competent Blue,” it was found that color plays such a role in the perception of brands that researchers had participants compare brand personality, likability and familiarity. The catch? Some people were shown brands in full color, and others were shown the same brands in grey scale. Surprisingly, or perhaps not after all the information that we have learned, when participants were able to see the brands in full color, certain personality ratings were improved. The brands with full color improved the sense of the brand as being more exciting if there were reds, more competent if there were blues, and more sophisticated if there were blacks.


The relationship between color and human emotions and personality has been widely studied though with not concrete results in the field of psychology. As marketers start utilizing these studies and this research to their advantage, it has become obvious that colors can contribute to brand personality and familiarity, thus giving marketers even more of an edge.


Art Therapy and Color Therapy

While the effects of color depends on context such as past experiences, culture, gender, age, etc., there is no denying that color can influence a person’s emotional and physiological response.

art therapy and color therapy

And from there, we can understand and utilize the notion of color psychology and its effects on a person’s behaviors, emotions and other responses in ways that can be beneficial to them. Art therapy and color therapy are such ways that used by many therapists so as to help a person’s mental or physical state.


Art therapy is a type of therapy that allows for the focus on a person’s inner experience and mind-body awareness and is often used as remedial activity. Art therapy often has patients go through different ways of self-expression such as painting, drawing, or modeling.


Should There Be More Research?

Color is more than just a way to describe how something looks. Color is a source of information and one that allows people to make decisions within 90 seconds of their initial interaction. Color plays a huge role in helping people form attitudes about certain products due to their ability to influence a person’s mood.


Research in color psychology is controversial mainly because of how uncertain and unstable the effects colors have on people. Trends come and go, cultures change the perception of color and even gender have preferences that all affect the generalizability and universality of color psychology.


Just because the research behind the psychology of color isn’t completely rock-solid with definites and concrete evidence, it doesn’t mean that research towards the subject should be altogether scrapped like a pile of rubbish. It is because of the uncertainties that come with the research behind color psychology that makes it all the more important to think critically about the subject, rejecting old hypotheses, replacing them with new ones and testing out everything in between. After all color is absolutely prevalent in everyday life on a day to day basis.


Color is not the only thing that can influence our minds and perceptions of the world. Read more about what your handwriting can reveal about a person or how your decisions can affect the way you think.


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