psychology of colour

The Psychology of Colour

The psychology of colour is a fascinating topic. People are invariably drawn to some colours more than others. Some people even have a strong dislike for certain colours and refuse to wear them or have them in their house at all. But why is it that we have strong reactions to different colours, loving some and hating others?

The human brain and the psychology of colour

Our brains have a reaction to each colour when we see it. This reaction is very personal and deeply rooted in past experiences and cultural exposure. For example, if you see an older person dressed all in black you might assume them to be recently bereaved because western culture associates black with mourning dress.

The psychology of colour is taken very seriously by brand marketers and designers. They they know that consumers often make purchases based on colour decisions. People will select objects in colours that evoke positive moods and emotions, or that they associate with an image of themselves they wish to portray to others. For example, someone may choose a black car because they feel it depicts luxury, or a red car because they associate it with speed.

Colour preferences are not static

As we age, our favourite colour choices are likely to change. Children and younger people often prefer brighter colours that attract more attention. Older people are more likely to favour traditional colours. Of course, this is a broad generalisation. There are many older people (such as myself!) who preference brighter colours in all hues of the rainbow despite their advancing years.

Colour evokes both positive and negative feelings and these effects vary from person to person. Some colours may make you feel happy, others calm, others unsettled and others more morose.

Perceived colour meanings

Even though our individual responses to colours can vary significantly, there are certain colours that tend to have a universal response in certain situations. For example, the turquoise blue of the ocean on a sunny day is nearly always thought of as relaxing, and the deep black of an unknown space without light is nearly always experienced as frightening or unnerving.

Marketers tend to commonly agree on the following perceived meanings of colours when designing brand campaigns targeting the general public:

Red – lust, power, excitement, love, speed, anger

Yellow – competence, happiness, inexpensive, low quality

Green – good taste, envy, eco-friendly, health

Blue – masculine, competence, high quality, corporate, reliability

Pink – sophistication, sincerity, feminine

Violet / Purple – authority, sophistication, power

Orange – warmth, excitement

Brown – ruggedness

Black – grief, sophistication, expensive, fear, death

White – happiness, sincerity, purity

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