The effect of colors on us is caused by their energy entering our bodies.
The psychology of color has fundamental properties that are universal, positive or negative. They relate respectively to the body, the mind, and the emotions.
Color meaning is significant in (consciously) relating to the electromagnetic spectrum.
You'll find the properties of each individual color further down on this page. But first...
Color is light, traveling to us in waves from the sun, on the same electro-magnetic spectrum as radio and television waves, microwaves, x-rays etc.
Light is the only part of the spectrum that we can see, which perhaps explains why we take it less seriously than the invisible power of the other rays.
Color psychology or spectrum discrimination?
Sir Isaac Newton demonstrated that light travels in waves, when he shone white light through a triangular prism and the different wavelengths refracted at different angles, enabling him to see the colors of the rainbow (the spectrum).
When light strikes any colored object, the object will absorb only the wavelengths that exactly match its own atomic structure and reflect the rest - which is what we see.
Turn this around and it is easy to understand how the color of anything is a clear indication of its atomic structure or, in simple terms, what it is made of.
When light strikes the human eye, the wavelengths do so in different ways, influencing our perceptions. In the retina, they are converted into electrical impulses that pass to the hypothalamus, the part of the brain governing our hormones and our endocrine system.
Although we are unaware of it, our eyes and our bodies are constantly adapting to these wavelengths of light.
Color psychology can be limited by language. There are only eleven basic color words in the English language, and yet there are literally millions of colors.
Computers will give us sixteen million and the human eye can distinguish more than any machine.
After the basic eleven, we borrow words, such as avocado (is that the flesh, or the skin?) and grape (is that deep purple or green?) to describe the myriad of shades, tones and tints. This inevitably creates confusion in color communication and thus in color psychology.
People often ask, "Do we all see colors the same?" Who knows? The point is that in color psychology it does not seem to matter what we think we are looking at; the effect of colors on us is caused by their energy entering our bodies.
Color-blind people are also sensitive to color psychology.
Each of them has potentially positive or negative psychological effects and which of these effects is created depends on the relationships within color combinations.
Color psychology postulates four primary colors - red, blue, yellow and green. They relate respectively to the body, the mind, the emotions and the essential balance between these three.
The psychological properties of the eleven basic colors are as follows:
Positive: Physical courage, strength, warmth, energy, basic survival, 'fight or flight', stimulation, masculinity, excitement.
Negative: Defiance, aggression, visual impact, strain.
Being the longest wavelength, red is a powerful color, both in color psychology and in the spectrum. Although not technically the most visible, it has the property of appearing to be nearer than it is and therefore it grabs our attention first. Hence its effectiveness in traffic lights the world over. Its effect is physical; it stimulates us and raises the pulse rate, giving the impression that time is passing faster than it is. It relates to the masculine principle and can activate the "fight or flight" instinct. Red is strong, and very basic. Pure red is the simplest color, with no subtlety. It is stimulating and lively, very friendly. At the same time, in color psychology it can be perceived as demanding and aggressive.
Positive: Intelligence, communication, trust, efficiency, serenity, duty, logic, coolness, reflection, calm.
Negative: Coldness, aloofness, lack of emotion, unfriendliness.
Blue is the color of the mind and is essentially soothing; it affects us mentally, rather than the physical reaction we have to red. Strong blues will stimulate clear thought and lighter, soft blues will calm the mind and aid concentration. Consequently, in terms of color psychology it is serene and mentally calming. It is the color of clear communication. Blue objects do not appear to be as close to us as red ones. Time and again in research, blue is the world's favorite color. However, it can be perceived as cold, unemotional and unfriendly.
Positive: Optimism, confidence, self-esteem, extraversion, emotional strength, friendliness, creativity.
Negative: Irrationality, fear, emotional fragility, depression, anxiety, suicide.
The yellow wavelength is relatively long and essentially stimulating. In this case the stimulus is emotional, therefore yellow is considered strongest in color psychology. The right yellow will lift our spirits and our self-esteem; it is the color of confidence and optimism. Too much of it, or the wrong tone in relation to the other tones in a color scheme, can cause self-esteem to plummet, giving rise to fear and anxiety. Our "yellow streak" can surface.
Positive: Harmony, balance, refreshment, universal love, rest, restoration, reassurance, environmental awareness, equilibrium, peace.
Negative: Boredom, stagnation, blandness, enervation.
Green strikes the eye in such a way as to require no adjustment whatever and is, therefore, restful. Being in the center of the spectrum, it is the color of balance - a more important concept than many people realize. When the world about us contains plenty of green, this indicates the presence of water, and little danger of famine, so we are reassured by green, on a primitive level. Negatively, it can indicate stagnation and, incorrectly used, will be perceived as being too bland.
Positive: Spiritual awareness, containment, vision, luxury, authenticity, truth, quality.
Negative: Introversion, decadence, suppression, inferiority.
The shortest wavelength is violet, often described as purple. It takes awareness to a higher level of thought, even into the realms of spiritual values... a higher pursuit of color psychology. It is highly introvertive and encourages deep contemplation, or meditation. It has associations with royalty and usually communicates the finest possible quality. Being the last visible wavelength before the ultra-violet ray, it has associations with time and space and the cosmos.
Excessive use of purple can bring about too much introspection and the wrong tone of it communicates something cheap and nasty, faster than any other color.
Positive: Physical comfort, food, warmth, security, sensuality, passion, abundance, fun.
Negative: Deprivation, frustration, frivolity, immaturity.
Since it is a combination of red and yellow, orange is stimulating and reaction to it is a combination of the physical and the emotional. It focuses our minds on issues of physical comfort - food, warmth, shelter etc. - and sensuality. For color psychology, it is a 'fun' color. Negatively, it might focus on the exact opposite - deprivation. This is particularly likely when warm orange is used with black. Equally, too much orange suggests frivolity and a lack of serious intellectual values.
Positive: Physical tranquility, nurture, warmth, femininity, love, sexuality, survival of the species.
Negative: Inhibition, emotional claustrophobia, emasculation, physical weakness.
Being a tint of red, pink also affects us physically, but it soothes, rather than stimulates. (Interestingly, red is the only color that has an entirely separate name for its tints. Tints of blue, green, yellow, etc. are simply called light blue, light green…etc.) Pink is a powerful color, psychologically. It represents the feminine principle, and survival of the species; it is nurturing and physically soothing. Too much pink is physically draining and can be somewhat emasculating.
Positive: Psychological neutrality.
Negative: Lack of confidence, dampness, depression, hibernation, lack of energy.
Pure gray is the only color that has no direct psychological properties. It is, however, quite suppressive. A virtual absence of color is depressing and when the world turns gray we are instinctively conditioned to draw in and prepare for hibernation. Unless the precise tone is right, gray has a dampening effect on other colors used with it. Heavy use of gray usually indicates a lack of confidence and fear of exposure in color psychology.
Positive: Sophistication, glamour, security, emotional safety, efficiency, substance.
Negative: Oppression, coldness, menace, heaviness.
Black is all colors, totally absorbed. The implications of that for color psychology are considerable. It creates protective barriers, as it absorbs all the energy coming towards you, and it enshrouds the personality. Positively, it communicates absolute clarity, with no fine nuances. It works particularly well with white. It communicates sophistication and uncompromising excellence. It creates a perception of weight and seriousness (it is a myth that black clothes are slimming). Black is essentially an absence of light, since no wavelengths are reflected and it can, therefore be menacing; many people are afraid of the dark.
Positive: Hygiene, sterility, clarity, purity, cleanness, simplicity, sophistication, efficiency.
Negative: Sterility, coldness, barriers, unfriendliness, elitism.
Just as black is total absorption, so white is total reflection. In effect, it reflects the full force of the spectrum into our eyes. Thus it also creates barriers, but differently from black, and it is often a strain to look at. It communicates, "Touch me not!". And in terms of color psychology, white is purity and, like black, uncompromising; it is clean, hygienic, and sterile. The concept of sterility can also be negative. Visually, white gives a heightened perception of space. The negative effect of white on warm colors is to make them look and feel garish.
Positive: Seriousness, warmth, Nature, earthiness, reliability, support.
Negative: Lack of humor, heaviness, lack of sophistication.
Brown usually consists of red and yellow, with a large percentage of black. Consequently, it has much of the same seriousness as black, but is warmer and softer. It has elements of the red and yellow properties. Brown has associations with the earth and the natural world. It is a solid, reliable color and most people find it quietly supportive - more positively than the ever-popular black, which is suppressive, rather than supportive.
Color psychology can be applied to branding, packaging, web design, interiors, product design and uniforms, as well as personal application to your home and wardrobe.
Another of my articles on Dream Psychology contains further ideas on colors.
Another study in Color Psychology compliments of Angela Wright of www.colour-affects.co.uk, may also be useful.