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The Psychology of Color

the psychology of colorColor has such power to make you feel that you have to be careful in your choice of colors for your projects. There are also cultural beliefs about color that you need to be aware if your intended audience is one of that particular group. Because of these factors, it is important to know the basic psychology of color before you design your website.

Black

Black is associated with death and darkness but also with authority and elegance or formality. In many cultures, widows wear black not only during the first period of mourning, but for the rest of their lives. You will also see security personnel and limousines sporting black. If you receive an invitation to a black tie wedding or event, you know it is going to be formal and very elegant.

Black is also considered to be serious, conservative and dignified. If it is overused, however, it can appear aggressive. It is also difficult to read text on a black background.

White

White symbolizes innocence, truth, goodness and purity. It suggests simplicity, safety or sterility. Internationally, waving a white flag signals a call for truce. White clothing is often associated with substantial wealth since it takes a lot of upkeep or needs to be replace often. In western cultures, white is used on the “good guys” in westerns and the “white knight” in romances. On the other hand, white symbolizes death in India, China and Japan.

Gray

I’ve never heard anyone say that gray was their favorite color. In fact, in is probably the one least thought of when listing colors. It blends well with many colors, however. Is a neutral that is neither friendly nor offensive. Gray is associated with maturity, success and reliability. It is non-committal, formal and dignified but can also emote an aura of power and wealth.

Brown

Brown is all around us–in the earth and trees. Browns are “popular during anxious times of social or economic upheaval” (The Complete Color Harmony, Sutton and Whelan, 2004, p. 170) because they remind us of hearth and home and the comfort they bring. Brown is dependable, sincere and hardworking with a sense of humility. Brown can lack authority but works with practically every other color. Men, in particular, favor brown. Brown is seen as rugged and outdoorsy.

Pink

In the psychology of color, pink is the most passive of colors. It is considered the most feminine color and is associated with nurturing and compassion. It is also a calming color and is thought to aid in digestion (Pepto Bismo anyone?). Men usually prefer peachy pinks to mauvey pinks.

Purple

Historically, only the extremely wealthy could afford purple cloth. In many cultures, it was reserved for royalty alone. Purple is associated with wealth, royalty and extravagance. For many women, purple is their favorite color. It is considered the color of compromise, nurturing, eager to please or sometimes passionate. In some countries, dark purple replaces black as the color of mourning. Depending upon the shade of purple, different meanings are conveyed. Perhaps that makes the psychology of the color purple the most confusing. deep plum is spiritual and mysterious while lavenders are sweetly romantic or nostalgic. Royal purple suggests affluence and status. Bright fuchsias are energetic and happy.

Blue

More people cite “blue” as their favorite color than any other. Blue is restful, calming, and protective. Navy blue represents loyalty and trustworthiness and commands respect. Brighter blues are friendly and likeable while darker blues signify good breeding, high social status, dignity and stability. Blue was associated with royalty in Spain and ancient Egypt. Blue is also a symbol of fidelity, hope and faith.

Green

Green is one of my favorite colors. Shortly after college I spent the summer in Saskatchewan, Canada. I missed seeing the green of my home in Wisconsin more than I expected. All I could see for miles to the horizon was waving fields of wheat. I imagine in the spring they are green, but by the time I saw them, they were turning gold and almost ready to harvest.

Green is the color of nature. It is considered the most relaxing tranquilizing color. Believe it or not, the reason is due to the psychology of color. Green focuses directly on the retina without being refracted like all other colors. This makes it especially easy on the eyes. Green is also thought to have healing powers and the ability to soothe and refresh.

The paler the green, the more soothing it is supposed to be. Green can also suggest immaturity or inexperience unless it is a forest or olive green. Those shades suggest stability, growth or power. Grass green is associated with fertility and was the favorite color for Renaissance wedding gowns!

Orange

If you want more energy, look at something orange. Orange is known to encourage oxygen intake to the brain and get your creativity flowing. Orange has energy and vitality but also fun and spontaneity, happiness and friendliness. Orange is stimulating and adventurous. Warmer oranges are exotic and appetizing.

Yellow

In the psychology of color, yellow is the happiest color in the spectrum. It transmits feelings of optimism, spontaneity and joy. Yellow is associated with wisdom, intellect and imagination. It promotes quick, clear thinking. Black type on a yellow background “is the most legible combination for printed material and the most conducive to memory retention” (p. 158). Bright yellows should be used sparingly, however, because prolonged exposure can provoke too much mental stimulation and create anxiety. Yellow used to be associated with cowards but the current generation associates it more with support of our military overseas. In Japan, yellow is associated with success, prosperity and power.

Red

True red is the most vibrant color. It expresses speed, power, joy, danger or passion. Red evokes intense emotions. In China, red represents good luck. It draws attention while making you feel warm but it is also difficult to see from a distance. Darker reds are considered regal, exclusive and appeal to men.

Psychology of Color Summary

Since color unconsciously influences people every day, it is to your advantage to understand how and why these reactions occur. Hot colors such as red orange or yellow have the longest wavelengths so require the most energy to view the. They stimulate the brain and raise your pulse and respiration rates. Cool colors such as blues and greens have the shortest wavelengths and produce a calming and soothing effect which reduces your metabolism. Learned responses to color include white bridal gowns to represent purity, red for danger, pink for baby girls.

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