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The Psychology of Color

How do colors make us feel?

Cherry Red

This powerful color increases blood pressure and heart rate. It can often produces feelings of intimacy, energy, passion and sexuality. It also stimulates the appetite. This is why it’s often used in restaurants and is an excellent choice for dining rooms inside the home.

  • 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. 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, it can be perceived as demanding and aggressive.

Tangerine Orange

A lot Like red, orange warms a room but in a less dramatic and passionate way. The mood and attitude of orange is more forgiving  and  friendly than fiery; more welcoming than seductive. This is why orange works well in living rooms and family rooms and is also a good choice for children’s bedrooms.

  • 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. 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.

Sunflower Yellow

Yellow grabs attention and catches the eye like no other color. This is why yellow is used as highlighters in offices. Also, in poorly lit foyers and hallways, yellow shows the way. Elderly people have reported that yellow lifts their mood when used in their bedrooms. But bright yellow can be too strong and may actually cause anxiety in infants, young children and the elderly.

  • 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 the strongest color, psychologically. 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.

Ocean Blue

Soothing blue is an ideal color of choice for adults and children’s bedrooms. But that same blue that lulls us to sleep also suppresses our appetites, possibly because there are very few naturally blue foods. You can use blue to put you to bed, but try and keep it out of the dining room.

  • 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, 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.

Watermelon Rind Green

As the dominant color in nature, we tend to be at home with green anywhere in the house. Light greens work well in bathrooms and living rooms; mid-range greens are a great accent for kitchens and dining rooms. Green can have a calming effect, that’s what makes it popular in hospitals, schools and work environments.

  • 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.

Eggplant Violet

Despite the favorable response violet elicits in children, many adults dislike purples, with rosier shades of violet being somewhat more appealing. Children’s bedrooms and play areas may be good places to experiment with this color family.

  • 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. It is highly introverted 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.

Cosmic Midnight Indigo

Indigo symbolizes a mystical borderland of wisdom, self-mastery and spiritual realization. While blue is the color of communication with others, indigo turns the blue inward, to increase personal thought, profound insights, and instant understandings. While blue can be fast, Indigo is almost instantaneous. Inventors use indigo skills for inspirations that seem to ‘come out of the blue.

  • Positive: Integrity and sincerity, structure and regulations, highly responsible, idealism, obedience, highly intuitive, practical visionary, faithful, devotion to the truth and selflessness.
  • Negative: Fanatical, judgmental, impractical, intolerant and inconsiderate, depressed, fearful, self-righteous, a conformist, addictive, bigoted and avoiding conflict.

The color indigo is the color of intuition and perception and is helpful in opening the third eye. It promotes deep concentration during times of introspection and meditation, helping you achieve deeper levels of consciousness. It is a color which relates to the “New Age” – the ability to use the Higher Mind to see beyond the normal senses with great powers of perception. It relies on intuition rather than gut feeling.

Indigo is a deep midnight blue. It is a combination of deep blue and violet and holds the attributes of both these colors.

Concrete Grey

We are in an era of Grey décor. Most homeowners want a hint of a lighter tone, and it combines nicely with darker concrete countertops. If used with bright yellows and creams and whites, it can be very pleasing to the eye in home décor. The use of glass and metal with grey is a favorite for modern families, but accents in bright colors like persimmon are necessary to create a warm and inviting environment. Revere Pewter is a Benjamin Moore historical color that captures the perfect essence of grey, to paint on the walls of hallways, great rooms, and entry ways and I suspect we will see grey continue to rise in popularity for many years.

  • Positive: Psychological neutrality.
  • Negative: Lack of confidence, dampness, depression, hibernation, lack of energy.

Pure grey 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 grey we are instinctively conditioned to draw in and prepare for hibernation. Unless the precise tone is right, grey has a dampening effect on other colors used with it. Heavy use of grey usually indicates a lack of confidence and fear of exposure.

Matte Black

Décor hails black triumphant. Great to utilize in Decorative hardware for rods and finials and rings. Black can anchor a space and inspire us when used with white. For example, black matte (no glossy) picture frames can highlight art well, especially black and white photos or sepia tone, with a sophisticated touch.

  • Positive: Sophistication, glamour, security, emotional safety, efficiency, substance.
  • Negative: Oppression, coldness, menace, heaviness.

Black is all colors, totally absorbed. The psychological implications of that are considerable. It creates protective barriers, as it absorbs all the energy coming towards you, and it enshrouds the personality. 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. Positively, it communicates absolute clarity, with no fine nuances. It communicates sophistication and uncompromising excellence and it works particularly well with white. Black creates a perception of weight and seriousness.

Wedding White

White is timeless stable in décor. Use the psychological effects of the color white to create a crisp, clean feel for your home. Different cultures associate very different feelings, moods, ‘meanings’, and psychological effects with this color. If you grew up in a Western society, you’ll probably see white as a ‘clean’, pristine color. We may think of weddings, clouds dotted over an April sky, or fresh snow. Interior design in Western societies uses the color white to create an airy, pure, clear, serene feel for a home. On floor, walls and furniture, the color white can make a room feel larger than it is and add a crisp freshness to a room scheme. To take advantage of the psychological effects of the color white, you don’t always need a lot of it. Just accents, for example window and door frames painted in white, cream or ivory, can lift the look and feel of a whole room. On its own, pure brilliant white can look sterile or high-maintenance, particularly with very sleek interior design styles that involve lots of polished surfaces. To soften the look of a room, the ‘secret’ is to layer up tints (from chalky white to ivory) and textures (in walls, textiles, and floor coverings). This will help make a white room warmer and more inviting – both psychologically and physically. Gray, brown and black look great with white!

  • 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!” 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

Chocolate Brown

Use the psychological effects brown to create a natural, comfortable feel for your rooms. Brown consists of such a mix of colors, it doesn’t have a ‘home’ anywhere on the color wheel. It is generally considered a neutral color, even though it is much more biased than clean whites, blacks and grays. The psychological effects of brown depend largely on the mix of colors that have gone into it, and when you look at the set of swatches below you will probably like some and dislike others. Brown can be quite a ‘yummy’ color (think chocolate, coffee, cookies). Those are the shades of brown that remind us of creature comforts and the Good Life.  Nature is full of the color brown and brown represents an Earth color. This psychological effects of the color brown are often described as reassuring, safe and stabilizing.

  • 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.