Color is an overwhelming component of the
Although we may not always realize it, color saturates our
everyday world in almost every conceivable way. From natureís
most majestic scenery to the man-made world of architecture
and art, colorís presence is evident in everything we perceive.
Thus, it unavoidably affects our lives and our consciousness.
Colors play many different roles in our world. In art
they can express emotion or beauty, in literature they can
portray mood or atmosphere, and in ourselves they play a role
bigger than most of us would imagine. Granted, no one would
deny the fact that colors are an integral part of the human
experience; most people are aware of their personal color
preference or even associations. People can be very
color conscious when it comes to "expressing themselves" either
in fashion, personal belongings, or art. But the question
remains, what is it about color that affects us so much, and
how do we form our relationship with color? Is color association
based on past experiences? Does color really have a neurological
affect on us? Or is it all in our head? Research done by psychologists
and other scientists would suggest that it is a little of
It has been well-known by psychologists for some time
that certain colors are indeed associated with certain emotions.
Like most presumably learned associations, childhood is the
time period when these relationships are made. Thus, the data
of childhood color association is imperative in understanding
how we relate to color. Overall, children have a tendency
to relate color, in general, to positive emotions. Children
prefer lighter colors to darker colors, and also associate
lighter colors with positive emotions.
The association of color and emotions is highest in children
under 7, and then gradually tapers off into adulthood. However,
there is still a significant correlation in adulthood. Among
children however, favorite colors include red and yellow,
and thus are associated with emotions like happiness. Also,
childrenís preferences are affected by the brightness
of the color, with brighter colors (even of the same hue)
being associated more strongly with positive emotions. Children
are not apt however to associate colors with certain
emotions, such as relating green to envy or red to anger.
Adults and older children however are. Color associations
become much more complex in adults even though the relationships
are not as strong as in children. One example of this aspect
of color relationships among adults is the factor of saturation.
Colors of high saturation are perceived as being more exciting
and stronger than colors of low saturation, thus yellow (which
is in the least-saturated region of the spectrum) is perceived
much differently in adults than in children. Adults perceive
yellow as dull and unexciting, whereas children perceive it
similarly to red, which both adults and children associate
with excitement, passion or action. This exemplifies the more
complex nature of color association in adults.
Specifically, almost all colors are undeniably associated
with certain characteristics or emotions. In order of the
spectrum, the first one to consider is red, probably the most
potent and emotional color. Red generally is associated with
excitement, either positive (passion, strength) or negative
(rage, aggressiveness). Physiologically, the eye has to adjust
to focus redís wavelength as its focal point resides behind
the retina. Thus, red objects overrule other hues and create
an illusion of appearing closer than it really is.
Orange, while similar to red, has almost no symbolic or emotional
association. It is generally perceived as being exciting and
stimulating though, however much more mellow than red. Yellow,
while often considered dull because of its lightness, is the
"happiest" color. Yellow usually represents enlightenment
or expansion. The next color in the spectrum, green, is a
dichotomy of emotion. In some instances it evokes a relaxing,
tranquil feeling, however just as often it may be associated
with guilt or envy. Physiologically it is the most restful
as the focal point lands exactly on the retina.
In both adults and children, blue is the most preferred color.
Also representing a calmness or tranquility, it is the antithesis
of red. Physiologically is has been shown to actually decrease
a personís pulse rate while red has been shown to be able
to increase it. Blue is associated with nobility and honor.
Violet is an extension of blue. Also subduing, violet can
be associated with dignity or exclusiveness, but also loneliness
These examples show well the associations humans make
with colors and their environment, however looking cross-culturally
we can learn even more about the associations made. Red and
black are associated with anger in all cultures studied, from
Native Americans to Poles. This would suggest a biological
basis for certain color-emotion associations. However, symbolically
these colors differ, as red can symbolize love and fertility,
and black is often worn by priests and judges. This type of
symbolic variation supports a more learned association hypothesis.
Further support of the theory that color associations
are rooted in cultural learning is the fact that green is
associated with envy only in America. In Germany, Italy, Japan,
and other countries, yellow is associated with envy as well
as jealousy. 17th and 18th Century literature
is believed to be the basis for this association, as plays
and novels often referred to the face of jealousy being yellow.
Purple has quite a variance of associations cross-culturally.
In America, as stated, it is associated with dignity and power.
Navajos on the other hand associate it with happiness, while
the Japanese connect it with sin and fear. Furthermore, Poles
associate it with anger, envy and jealousy.
In addition to emotional responses, colors seem to have
significant effects on various physical perceptions of everyday
life. Colors can affect our perception of time, weight and
space, temperature, and even noise. Research has shown that
in environments surrounded by cool colors, time is underestimated,
objects appear shorter, and air feels cooler. The reverse
is true in controlled environments made up of warm colors.
This information combined with the known emotional associations
can prove useful in selecting color schemes for schools, offices,
Although more research needs to be done on color association,
it is clear from the available information that colors help
shape our daily lives. Colors have both a cultural and biological
effect on us and helps us perceive the world in greater detail.
Furthermore, colors are an integral part of who we are and
how we view the world.