Color Psychology

Even when you are tuned in to the color around you, like on a sunny day when a wall looks brighter than usual, or on a cloudy day when color seems drab and lifeless, it can still be challenging to pin down exactly why you are responding in a particular way. That's because multiple signals all converge into a single response to a color or color scheme. Color psychology reveals that there is more happening under the surface than we realize.

The good news is that while some of your reactions to color are subjective, many color responses are predictable. Gaining insight by studying color psychology, theory, and science provide a jumping off point for determining what colors will work best in any given situation and what the likely reactions to those colors will be.

When you combine color psychology with the messages and meanings of color and a solid understanding of the basics of color application, you create a compelling base of knowledge that will serve you well whether you are creating a new look for a multi-million dollar brand or merely redecorating your bedroom.

Color Psychology Illustrated by a Watercolor Outline of a Head Filled with Many Colors

Color Psychology And You

It turns out, the effects of color are both powerful and far-reaching. How do we know? Let’s examine some aspects of our lives that we can prove are affected by color.

As Lovers

A University of Rochester study demonstrated a profound connection between men’s physical attraction to women and the color red. Testing theories in a variety of scenarios and aspects, researchers determined that the presence of red makes women more attractive to men. Men are more willing to date, spend money, and to engage in sexual activity with women wearing red. What’s even more fascinating? Men are entirely unaware of their tendency to perceive women wearing red as more attractive.

As it turns out, the same is true for women. A later study – also at the University of Rochester—determined that women are more likely to find men attractive and to be open to intimate relationships with men when the color red is present. So, the color red makes us more sexually attractive. That’s a powerful force.

Color Psychology: Does Wearing Red Enhance Attractiveness?
Color Psychology: Can Eye Color Indicate a Potential Partner?
Related Articles or Studies:

As Eaters

A study from the Memorial University of Newfoundland found a relationship between the way we taste food and\ the color of the plate under that food. When presented on round white plates, a piece of cheesecake is thought to be sweeter, more intensely flavored, of higher quality, and more pleasing than that same cheesecake presented on round black plates.

But color affects more than our perception of taste. Coloring can even change our perception of a product’s healthiness. A study at the University of Twente in the Netherlands discovered that we rate foods packaged in natural-colored packagings – like brown – as healthier when compared to products packaged in colors like yellow. To amplify that perception, a company would use packaging is of natural materials – like cardboard – as compared with plastic.

Color Psychology: How Color Affects Taste
Related Articles or Studies:

As Sleepers

A study conducted by Travelodge UK found that the color of our bedroom walls can have a significant effect on the amount and quality of sleep we get each night. The study found that blue walls are the best promoters of rest, followed by yellow, green, and silver. The worst colors for sleepy time are red, gray, beige, brown, and purple.

Color Psychology: How Color Affects Your Sleep
Related Articles or Studies:

As Buyers

It shouldn’t be any surprise that color can influence our purchasing decisions, but you might be taken aback by just how influential color can be. For example, when consumers look at a new product, they tend to make decisions about that product quickly – in about ninety seconds. And the single most crucial component in that decision? Color. Color accounts for roughly ninety percent of our initial judgment.

But when making a significant purchase, the importance of color grows even more substantial. 92.6% of consumers say that the appearance of a product is the most critical factor in their decision to purchase.

It’s no wonder companies put so much effort and expense into packaging, logos, and branding. It matters. A lot!

Title - The Real Value of Tiffany Blue
Title - OPI Color Names Tell and Sell a Story

The Stroop Color and Word Test

Color Psychology

Kate Smith

The Stroop effect is one of the best-known phenomena in cognitive psychology and one of the most famous and widely used psychological tests ever developed. It is elegant in its simplicity, highly effective, and employs the power of color.

The Stroop effect is a demonstration of interference in the reaction time of a task. The easy explanation is that the test requires participants to say the written color names of a set of words independent of the actual color of the word. It is surprisingly more difficult than most people think.

Here is a more scientific explanation from The National Center for Biotechnology Information: The Stroop Color and Word Test is a neuropsychological test extensively used to assess the ability to inhibit cognitive interference that occurs when the processing of a specific stimulus feature impedes the simultaneous processing of a second stimulus attribute, well-known as the Stroop Effect.

The effect, named after John Ridley Stroop, who first published the results in English in 1935, had previously been published in Germany in 1929 by Erich Rudolf Jaensch but its roots can be followed back to works in the nineteenth century. The Jaensch paper is one of the most cited in the history of experimental psychology, leading to more than 700 Stroop-related articles and many variations of the initial Stroop test.

Try the Stroop Effect Test

Eric H. Chudler, PhD, Executive Director, Center for Neurotechnology at Washington State University and I wrote this article that explains how to take the Stroop Effect Test and what is going on in your mind while you are doing it.

Do you think you can override you brain's color and language connection?
Give it a try and find out!

Then come back and leave a comment below telling me about your experience.

More About Color Psychology

Think About How Color Influence You

How does it influence your purchasing decisions? How about your appetite? Do the colors you wear reveal information about your personality? I’d enjoy hearing about your experiences with color and how color affects your life. Please leave a comment below and let me know how color affects you.

Feature Image Credit: Shutterstock

Read Time: 6 min
  • Cathy says:

    I’ve always been drawn to vibrant colors, so much that it’s difficult for me to make a decision based on just one color scheme when decorating my home, for example. But what I’ve always wanted to learn more about is the ability of a random object to evoke a feeling from my childhood. It can be frustrating because I’d like to understand the deeper meaning behind this, but I’m not sure how to research this phenomenon. A random rich colored flower that I might pass by on a walk will take me back to my kindergarten classroom (I’m 54 yrs old) and give me a feeling of nostalgia. I find colors fascinating!!

  • Claire Dixon says:

    I hate sky tones. I love earth tones. Green is my favorite color, & the darker the better. I loooove trees, therefore I loooooove green. I don’t like green vegetables because I don’t like vegetables (except starchy ones), they don’t taste good. Even my most favorite tune has green in the name (although I didn’t find out its name until much later). I would love the tune FOREST GREEN even if it was named ORDINARY or PLAIN or EMPTY or NOTHING MUCH. Here is FOREST GREEN played by a professional organist (not me, I’m an amateur): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gWwRe2aT0JI
    Claire Dixon aka “Forest Green Organ Geek”

  • Charlene Rouspil says:

    Hi Kate, I have been a fan forever since my first trip to New York in September of 2006 . A young lady who took photos for your blog asked if she could take a photo of me in one of my most favorite tops (I still have the top and will pass along to my grand daughters) the top was a collage of vibrant roses and now I only wish to see that photo again and share with them. This was before cell phones with cameras and although she gave me her card I did see it on your blog back then but would love to capture it for a most precious memory. I am also looking to take a class with a group of designers in 2020 so if you have a schedule of where you will be I would love to meet you in person!

  • Ramona says:

    This is exactly the information I was looking for to add to a presentation I am making.

    • Kate Smith says:

      It’s good to know you found what you were looking for. Best of luck with your presentation.

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