The Psychology of Color

The psychology of color exists – but not in the way you might think.

Indeed, color affects the way we feel. This might sound like utter new-age nonsense, but marketers, advertising executives, and commercial interior designers (amongst many others) been taking advantage of this knowledge for ages.

Restaurants have long used the color red in their interiors, which has been allegedly been found to increase appetite. Combined with the color yellow which is associated with happiness, the world’s largest restaurant chain has a recognizable and effective color palette to serve their business desires.

Ever wonder why blue is so prevalent in the color branding of banks? The color has been associated with trust in a number of psychological studies.

All that said, the psychology of color is a lot more complicated than these trite and expected examples make it seem. It is true that the concept is exalted in marketing and branding. It is also true that psychological studies have demonstrated that people are affected emotionally by the colors they are surrounded by.

However, the reality is that individual associations with different colors is completely informed by personal experience. One person’s upbringing and culture will result in a completely different view of certain colors than another person’s. Most importantly, personal preference deeply affects how color is viewed.

Even if you have not given thought to your favorite color since elementary school, there are undoubtedly colors you love and colors you loathe – as well as colors that fit certain moods and colors that fit others.

I’ll use myself as an example. Personally, I do consider red to be a color of excitement (whether it excites my appetite or another aspect of my life). Yellow certainly makes me happy, and cooler colors like blues and purples calm me.

On the other hand, I’m not a huge fan of green (particularly in decorating) – while it works in other people’s colors palettes, I don’t usually choose it for my own. So no matter how much I hear that it symbolizes prosperity and a healthy family, I’m probably not going to frequently consider adding it to my decorating scheme.

Or I might. Once I moved into a stark white apartment, and accents of black and green just…worked.

I may choose other colors in rooms that are not usually associated with the typical moods they evoke. For example, at different times in my life I had both a deep red bedroom and a black bedroom. Rather than being too loud or depressing (as typical interpretations of each color might suggest), both rooms were in fact quite cozy.

Sometimes the colors dominating my preferred palettes change over time. For quite a while I was drawn to warm colors – reds, deep oranges, reddish pinks and purples. Like my previous experiences with the color green, there may come times when you too suddenly find yourself drawn to certain colors inexplicably. Recently I began decorating with more blue (cobalt is my preferred shade) than ever before.

Call me superstitious, but I do think that these changes in taste reflect changes in your life – both changes you are already going through as well as changes you aspire to make. When I changed my mind about green, I choose it without thinking, and was surprised with my choices after the fact.

It just so happened that I was in the middle of a period of extreme life changes at that moment. I really believe the necessity of my being open to the many changes I was facing pushed me to get out of my comfort zone in another, more subtle way at the time – experimenting with a new color.

I began choosing blue as I entered my 30s and found myself yearning for a bit more calmness and space for introspection. Despite my use of a bold cobalt blue color, the newly decorated areas of my apartment are slowly feeling more relaxed and sophisticated – to me.

When you choose colors to surround yourself with, it can be helpful to use traditional associations with color as a jumping-off point in your explorations of various palettes. Yet it is important to pay even close attention to how certain colors make you feel.

Are you drawn to certain colors? Ask yourself why. Your own associations with certain colors may be different from those that have supposedly been established.

Focus on how you feel when you are surrounded by various colors in different situations. Once you have an idea of how color affects you, turn the gaze to your home. How do you want to feel at home? Are the colors in your decorating palette creating the moods you desire?