Psychology of Color

How Do You Feel? Color may be a factor.

Artists understand what an important role color plays. They know that bright, airy colors can have the viewer feeling uplifted; or that deep, saturated hues can feel heavy or contemplative. The psychological effects of color have long been studied and, subsequently, are a powerful tool when creating spaces. Everything from classrooms to doctors’ offices, to master bedrooms are all strongly affected by color.

“We react on multiple levels of association with colors — there are social or culture levels as well as personal relationships with particular colors,” explained Leslie Harrington, executive director of The Color Association of The United States, in a 2011 Huffington Post article. “You also have an innate reaction to color. For example, when you look at red, it does increase your heart rate. It is a stimulating color. This goes back to caveman days of fire and danger and alarm.”

Narrowing down specific moods that are elicited by color is undeniably subjective; however there are some generally accepted universal truths. Reds and oranges are warm, blues and purples are cool; yellow is attention-grabbing, while green is relaxing; brown is an earth tone and tied to nature, while white is light and neutral.

Color is also highly cultural, which also shows how environmental and sociological factors play into how color makes us feel. In the United States, for example, white is generally attributed to purity and cleanliness, thereby invoking the feeling of light or sterile; in the Middle East, white signifies mourning, which can result in feelings of sadness or loss.

When designing a space, color is one of the fundamental decisions that need to be made. It sets the tone – both literally and figuratively – for the space. Hospitals and medical clinics, for example, often turn to blues, yellows and greens; evidence has shown that these specific hues represent calmness, optimism and relaxation, respectively.  High-tech, high-energy office spaces may turn to reds and oranges to grab attention and promote excitement. In the world of competitive sports, a football team’s guest locker room might be pink as a way to passively offend and agitate the opposing team. Pink is seen as a gentle and nurturing color – not what is usually thought of when it comes to the physical and demanding high stakes game of football.

There’s no arguing that color and mood are closely intertwined, and color psychology is a continually growing field of study that tries to further quantify the links and more succinctly predict outcomes about how  affects moods. But, it is also commonly understood that how color affects someone’s mood is highly individual.

At Integrated Art, discussing color with our clients is often at the forefront of any project we undertake. We often have to find the right balance between creating a calm, soothing hospital environment and one that incorporates pops of vibrant color to perk up the patients and staff. Having a good understanding of color psychology goes a long way in creating successful spaces.


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