Have you ever noticed that sitting in a room with fluorescent lights and gray walls is depressing, no matter where you are? Have you noticed that rooms with bright green plants make you feel energized?
Often forgotten in a corporate age of cubicles and matte gray, the colors we surround ourselves with play a massive role in moderating how we feel on a daily basis. Indeed, considering the tremendous impact colors have on our physiology, productivity and general happiness, it’s a wonder so little time and effort is spent on understanding them.
“Given the prevalence of color, one would expect color psychology to be a well-developed area,” color researchers Andrew Elliot and Markus Maier have noted. “Surprisingly, little theoretical or empirical work has been conducted to date on color’s influence on psychological functioning,1 and the work that has been done has been driven mostly by practical concerns, not scientific rigor.” (1)
This article will talk through the effects that certain standard colors have on the mood of those around it.
Where better to start a discussion on color psychology than perhaps the most iconic and energetic of all of the colors: red.
Passion, love, power, anger – reds represent the intensity of the human experience. Considering the most common natural expression of red is blood, it’s no wonder that the sight of it tends to raise the pulse of those in the area.
Seriously – that’s not just a turn of phrase. The color red has been shown to present the following physiological changes in those exposed to it:
- Elevated blood pressure
- Enhanced metabolism
- Increased heart rate
- Increased respiration rate
Reds are very bold and intense, which is why they’re commonly found in night clubs, restaurants and areas that require a high level of vibrancy and energy. They don’t do well in intense amounts for areas which require calm – like hospitals or coffee shops.
Arguably the most iconic counterpunch to the fiery energy and passion of Red is the mellow, meditative and calming energy of blue. Children’s hospitals have long seen the benefits of surrounding patients with warm sky blues – it’s the perfect color for mellowing the soul.
Calmness, serenity, aloofness and even sadness are hallmark physiological responses to the color. The most introspective of artists like Van Gogh and Picasso feature blues heavily in their colour palettes.
Indeed, as a hallmark to the mad men era of advertising, blue is the most common color found amongst the logos of Fortune 500 companies. Why? Because it’s traditionally associated with conservatism and stability – the two best feelings to present in a business transaction.
Vibrant blues can also be very inspiring and highly productive. Focused meeting rooms do best with strong blues (contrasted with some vibrant greens).
Speaking of which.
The color of nature, growth and vitality, green is a highly effective and productive color.In fact, research has shown that adding green to the environment actually increases the amount of oxygen we breathe in – one of the main reasons we feel so energized in large green spaces.
While blue is the most common color found in corporate logos, it’s presence is generally limited to the background, with the primary focus being on green. This is no accident – green is the most commonly found color in nature, so it makes for the perfect backdrop.
Green’s also the most common color found in restaurants, which makes sense – it’s the perfect color to encourage relaxing, unwinding and digging in. They also tend to reduce stomach aches.
Yellow is a vibrant, almost hyperactive color – it’s the color of the sun, and the sun is the source of all plant life. This makes it the perfect color to encourage productivity and energy. For that reason, it’s the most common color found in corporate meeting rooms – it keeps us alert and interested.
It’s also the most common color found in kitchens, which makes sense – it’s the perfect color to encourage people to prepare food, and therefore eat (it’s also the primary color found in restaurant kitchens).
Bright Yellows are found in the most productive parts of factories, and are also a staple of children’s toys. That’s because bright yellows encourage mental activity, focus and self-motivated behavior. Interestingly, it’s also the color of caution and warning. In the west, we don’t tend to see this color used in public, but in Asian restaurants and signs, the bright yellow and red combination is very common.
Also, yellow is the standard color of caution and warning signs in most countries. For that reason, it’s also the most common color used on school playgrounds – keeping kids safe and self-motivated is a big deal.
Like yellow, orange is a very energetic color. It’s the perfect color to encourage brainstorming and creativity, making it the most common color found in advertising. Also, like red, orange is a very intense color – it’s the perfect color to ensure that you attract attention.
For that reason, it’s the most common color found in roadside hazard signs – it gets attention.
Orange also has a very intense vibration – it’s the perfect color to stimulate energy and awaken your senses. This is primarily why Fire Departments use it heavily for their trucks to complement the reds, and why pylons are orange – it gets you to take them seriously.
Orange is also a very common color found in retail stores. Why? Because it’s the perfect color to encourage impulse purchasing. Orange is also the most common color found in home improvement stores – encourages creativity and productivity, and stimulates the senses.
Need to get a home improvement project done? Add some orange to get you going!
Colors and moods – the hues matters
Colors play such a big role in our lives that they’ve even been shown to impact our moods, and by extension, our productivity. It’s essential to carefully choose the colors around you, and to choose colors that enhance and guide the moods you want. It’s also important to highlight the fact that the hue plays a massive role in the mood that colors convey.
Indeed, in the world of color psychology, “colors” actually refer to color hues, not just colors. For example, the color red is a red hue, not just the color red. This makes a massive difference, and in a world where the difference between yellow and orange, for example, is a matter of a simple hue shift, it’s essential to be aware of the psychology that each hue brings with it.