How do colours affect your mood

Colour psychology: emotional effects of colours

by Mori

There has been some interesting psychological research done around how colours affect the mind (our perceptions and feelings) and even our bodies (physical reactions). Even though there are some universal and common perceptions linked to different colours, our feelings are often personal and based on our own experiences and the culture we live in. It’s an exciting and interesting topic and I’m happy to finally post a bit about it!  🙂

I personally love colours and find the proper use of them super important in each creative task that I do be it at work on in my personal life. Having the “perfect colour” or a combination of them that I find appealing, can increase my motivation to do something – for example, I’m more excited about my daily tasks when I write them down with coloured pens! (Note to self: I see a stationery/pen shopping spree coming again soon!)

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I feel pleased when I look at a presentation slide deck that has colours in harmony, I feel happier and energetic when I’m wearing my bright yellow sweater, and I feel somewhat alarmed or stirred when I look at a big patch of bright red or orange on a screen.

Why does colour seem to have power over us? How can different colours affect our mood in different ways? Find out below!

 

What is colour psychology?

Colour psychology studies how different hues of colour affect human behaviour. Even though it hasn’t established itself as a proper, official branch of psychology (it’s more a part of cognitive or behavioural psychology), colour psychology is pretty much always given some consideration nowadays in many industries, especially in marketing, design and art, where influencing human behaviour is a must.

For example, colour psychology together with marketing and branding can investigate how different colours affect people’s perception of products, services, and even the brand itself based on what emotions the logo and overall branding of a company elicit from potential customers. If I land on a website and I don’t like its colours – I might just leave especially if there are multiple alternatives.

Common colour perceptions and symbolism

You have probably heard that some colours are warm, and some are cold. Warm colours (red, orange and yellow) are linked to positive feelings such as warmth and strength, and also negative feelings such as anger. Cold colours include blue, purple and green, and are often linked to calmness and relaxation, however, in some cases they can also represent sadness. Read more below on several colours and what feelings or perceptions they are often associated with!

I’ve also included information on what each colour typically symbolises in art and culture. This is important to consider when we think about how your history and cultural background can have an effect on how different colours make you feel.

Additionally, just for fun, I’ve included what each colour makes me think about at the moment of writing this. This is a fun exercise and and an interesting quick insight into your own thinking and what connections you make in your mind when thinking about these colours at a moment’s notice. 😄 Feel free to try it yourself too while reading the below. 

Brown

How do colours affect your mood - brown

“When he did appear his eyes were as brown as I remembered, pupils flecked with gold like beach pebbles.”
― Amber Dawn (Sub Rosa)

Emotions and perceptions:

  • Boredom, dullness
  • Safety, security
  • Loneliness, isolation
  • Warmth
  • Comfort
  • Reliability
  • Nature
  • Earth, soil

Symbolism:

When you’re a child (and perhaps for adults too) brown might not be your favourite colour, due to it kind of symbolising… well, poo. 💩 There’s an obvious direct correlation. On the other hand, bread packaging in grocery stores is often tinted with brown colour because it elicits thoughts about the bread being freshly-baked at home. 

Because brown is found in nature (tree bark, soil), it is considered reliable, sturdy, earthy, and strong. It’s often linked with autumn time due to the leaves starting to turn from green to brown before falling off. 

What comes to mind when I think of “brown”?

Warm and soft chocolate cookies!

Red

Red

“I love bright red drinks, don’t you? They taste twice as good as any other color.”
― Lucy Maud Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables)

Emotions and perceptions:

  • Passion
  • Energy
  • Positivity
  • Happiness
  • Desire
  • Love
  • Danger

Symbolism:

People associate red with love and passion, and it is often used when describing occasions such as Valentine’s Day in the media. When you think of what type of flowers to give to someone you have romantic feelings for, you probably consider red roses.

Red can also signify danger and can be used to convey a warning in stop signs, for example. It attracts attention, and often if you want attention on yourself at the workplace or at a party – you might consider dressing in red! Red can also be a negative colour and elicit thoughts about violence, war and the devil.

In China, red is used to symbolise good luck and happiness and is a common colour theme for weddings. Due to this colour being linked with strength, activity and vitality, placebo stimulant pills tend to be coloured red (or orange).

Just like with other warm colours (orange, yellow), red is sometimes thought of as the colour of the sunset and sunrise, which makes it positive and energising for some people.

 

What comes to mind when I think of “red”?

Someone I know who loves red. For example, she drives a red car, and always chooses a red mobile phone cover!

Orange

Orange

“I feel a little dizzy,” said Orion. “But also wonderfully elated. I feel that I am on the verge of finding a rhyme for the word orange.”
― Eoin Colfer (The Atlantis Complex)

Emotions and perceptions:

  • Strength
  • Energy, excitement
  • Happiness, joy
  • Brightness
  • Overwhelming
  • Warmth
  • Enthusiasm

Symbolism:

Because orange is associated with urgency and it attracts attention (like red, but in a not-so-alarming way), it can be used on websites to create a sense of something needing action immediately before it’s too late (e.g. purchasing a product during a sale through an orange banner ad). Like with the colour red (and yellow), orange is often used in traffic and other warning/alert signs due to the attention-grabbing effect and feeling of urgency it creates in the mind.

Because it is an energetic colour, it can be used in sports gear to convey a feeling of enthusiasm towards sports and exercising.

When you’re designing something for Halloween, I’m sure you’ve considered using orange somewhere due to the association from pumpkins and autumn leaves.

What comes to mind when I think of “orange”?

A memory of sitting in the car, and listening to the radio.  I was a teenager, on my way somewhere (can’t remember where anymore). The radio presenter was talking about a study where they asked men what colour of clothes on women turns them on the most. Surprisingly, the study concluded that it was orange.

I don’t know what study it was, or where it was conducted or how reliable it was (could have been the radio presenter’s team going around interviewing people in town for all I know!). There’s been some official studies on the same subject though – for example, psychologist Andrew J. Elliot found that the colour of a person’s clothing could indeed have an effect on how the person is seeing in terms of sexual attractiveness. The conclusion was that heterosexual men found women dressed in red more romantically interesting than women in any other colour of clothing. 

Yellow

“Would a Violet Crumble taste the same if it was yellow?”
― Anthony T.Hincks

Emotions and perceptions:

  • Happiness
  • Cheerfulness
  • Energetic
  • Hope
  • Fun
  • Knowledge
  • Confidence
  • Creativity
  • Attention
  • Warmth
  • Frustration

Symbolism:

Yellow is often associated with summer, joy and sunshine due to the sun being depicted as yellow, and various flowers being yellow and blooming during summer time. Because it is an energising colour, it’s used in places where they want you to feel energetic, such as gyms.

Yellow is a very bright colour, which makes it useful for school buses and taxis in the US, as they can be easily spotted. As with red and orange, yellow is sometimes associated with alertness and warning, and used in traffic signals and warning signs.

Due to being so bright, yellow can strain your eyes and start causing frustration after a while. Some say you can get angry easier in a yellow room compared to e.g. a blue room!

What comes to mind when I think of “yellow”?

The sun and sunshine = summer = happiness! ☀️

Beige

Beige

“The decor was attractive and strong, but blander than she would have thought his wealth and position afforded him. Caren couldn’t see the point of having that much money if all of it led to beige.”
― Attica Locke (The Cutting Season)

Emotions and perceptions:

  • Neutral
  • Natural
  • Calm, relaxing
  • Simplicity
  • Safety
  • Conservative
  • Dull, boring
  • Unadventurous

Symbolism:

Because beige is considered basic, neutral, calm and comforting, it is often used in interior design where it conveys a feeling of family togetherness and relaxation. For some, however, having beige furniture or walls can mean that the house is unoriginal and boring. Like brown, beige can also seem “old”.

If you want to dress in beige, you might do that to blend in and not stand out from a crowd. Different shades of beige are also good for background colours on websites.

What comes to mind when I think of “beige”?

A warm winter cardigan. I don’t have one in beige, but somehow my thoughts pointed to one!

Green

“I can breathe where there is green. Green grows hope. It keeps my heart beating and helps me remember who I am.”
― Courtney M. Privett (Faelost)

Emotions and perceptions:

  • Natural
  • Energetic
  • Abundant
  • Lush
  • Calming
  • Stability
  •  Harmony

Symbolism:

Green can symbolise new beginnings and rebirth. It represents nature, healing and fertility, due to often being found in nature.  Due to the association of nature being a place to relax and calm your mind, green can be a relaxing colour for many, as well as a colour for creativity.

 

Green can also symbolise jealousy, when you think of sayings such as someone is “green with envy”. A more recent meaning for “green” is when someone is a “newbie” at something or lacks experience.

What comes to mind when I think of “green”?

The saying “green with envy” and a mental image of a greenhouse. I can’t tell which thought came first!

Blue

Blue

“I need the shade of blue that rips your heart out. You don’t see that type of blue around here.”
― Cath Crowley (Graffiti Moon)

Emotions and perceptions:

  • Sadness
  • Calmness, peace
  • Responsibility
  • Trustworthiness
  • Reliability
  • Refreshing
  • Strength

Symbolism:

Because the sky and the ocean are often depicted as blue, it symbolises serenity, stability, wisdom and reliability. The Virgin Mary in the Catholic Church is often depicted wearing blue to symbolise divinity.

Blue has also been often seen as a “boy’s colour”. When you go to a toy store or a clothing store, the boys section is often filled with blue and light blue items. Nowadays, people are moving away from this notion of certain colours being linked to a specific sex, and (I hope) stores and manufacturers are going to be increasingly aware of this progress.

Because blue depicts responsibility and elicits feeligs of trust, it is often used in corporate settings or banking.

What comes to mind when I think of “blue”?

My childhood best friend. I don’t know if her favourite colour has since changed, but she told me when we were kids that her favourite colour was blue. 🙂

Turquoise

Turquoise

“A turquoise given by a loving hand carries with it happiness and good fortune.”
― Arabic proverb

Emotions and perceptions:

  • Cool
  • Calming, peaceful
  • Sophisticated
  • Refreshing
  • Creative
  • Inspiration
  • Friendly

Symbolism:

Turquoise, or aqua/aquamarine, are often linked with water. It often symbolises good luck, and the turquoise gemstone has been used in protection amulets in ancient cultures. Turquoise is often seen as a colour of clear thought, communication and self-expression.

What comes to mind when I think of “turquoise”?

I feel like this is quite a common thought. I think of a tropical-looking scene with turquoise waters. The sort of thing you see on holiday brochures.

Purple and violet

“Like some winter animal the moon licks the salt of your hand,
Yet still your hair foams violet as a lilac tree
From which a small wood-owl calls.”
― Johannes Bobrowski

Emotions and perceptions:

  • Creativity
  • Imagination
  • Luxury
  • Bravery
  • Wealth
  • Romance

Symbolism:

Purple is between red and blue, which makes it equally warm and cold at the same time. It’s often used as a “unisex” colour. Purple is seen as a royal colour, linking to thoughts about wealth and luxury.

Some might think of purple (often together with black), the colour of the night sky or images of the cosmos and stars.

What comes to mind when I think of “purple”?

When you mix (and smash) blueberries into greek yoghurt, and it makes that lovely purple swirl.

Pink

Pink

“Pink is a beautiful color, because it is one of the colors that the sun makes at twilight and in the dawns.”
― C. JoyBell C.

Emotions and perceptions:

  • Softness
  • Femininity
  • Love
  • Sweetness
  • Relaxing
  • Passive
  • Stimulating
  • Vibrant
  • Delicate

Symbolism:

People associate pink with soft things, sweetness, love and femininity, although as mentioned above with the colour blue, the notion of certain sexes being tied to a certain colour is nowadays slowly fading. In the past before pink was considered “girl’s colour”, it was actually predominantly a masculine colour!

Pink can be seen as a childish colour due to the above cultural influences of dressing little girls in pink and buying them pink toys, etc.

Pink can also symbolise something beautiful, tender and delicate due to many flower petals being shades of pink. Think of pink roses, for example.

 

What comes to mind when I think of “pink”?

My colleague at work who loves pink. She has everything pink, sometimes even her hair. 

Black

“Women think of all colors except the absence of color. I have said that black has it all. White too. Their beauty is absolute. It is the perfect harmony.”
― Coco Chanel

Emotions and perceptions:

  • Sorrow, mourning
  • Fear
  • Unhappiness
  • Darkness
  • Boldness
  • Formality

Symbolism:

In Western culture, black is a somewhat negative colour, linked to death, evil and the occult. Think of the plague being dubbed as “the Black Death”, or the witche’s cat sitting on the broomstick always being black. When you google death or grief, you get a lot of dark images. Black is also often used in funeral clothing.

On the other hand, especially with branding and product design, black can be seen as luxurious, exclusive, elegant and powerful. In clothing, black is often the colour of formality. In ancient Egypt, black symbolised rebirth.

What comes to mind when I think of “black”?

Something from a horror scene on TV. Do you watch Netflix? If you’ve seen The Haunting of Hill House, think of those… characters. Something like that comes to mind. I’d love to say “my cat Drake”, but honestly, not sure why, the horror stuff came to mind first even though it’s been several months since I watched that show. 😨

Grey

How do colours affect your mood - grey

“She also considered very seriously what she would look like in a little cottage in the middle of the forest, dressed in a melancholy gray and holding communion only with the birds and trees; a life of retirement away from the vain world; a life into which no man came. It had its attractions, but she decided that gray did not suit her.”
― A.A. Milne (Once on a Time)

Emotions and perceptions:

  • Emotionless
  • Neutral
  • Impartial
  • Detached
  • Solid
  • Stable
  • Calm
  • Quiet, reserved
  • Depressing
  • Elegant

Symbolism:

Grey can symbolise stability, calm and solidness and lack of emotion, as it is the colour of rock. It can also symbolise maturity due to the connotations with us getting grey hair when we get old. Too much grey can convey loneliness and sadness.

I read about an interesting study that has potential to help medical professionals gauging the mood of a person (a child, for example) who has trouble speaking. In the study, researchers tested which colours were depressed and anxious people more likely to associate their moods with – it was grey. On the other hand, yellow was preferred by those people who were happier.

 

What comes to mind when I think of “grey”?

I think back to a moment in childhood when we were making pots out of clay. It was fun, wet, and my hands turned grey if I left the clay on for long until it dried. 

White

White

“Is there anything whiter than winter snow?”
― Laiah Gifty Akita

Emotions and perceptions:

  • Calmness, peacefulness
  • Loneliness
  •  Cleanliness, sterility
  • Purity
  • Light
  • Spaciousness
  • Virtue

Symbolism:

White is often associated with cleanliness, faith and innocence in the Western culture. Think of doctor’s coats or lab coats and sterile hospital rooms. Angels are mostly depicted wearing white. In Western culture, white is a dominant colour in weddings and very often the colour of bridal dresses. It used to symbolise virginity, which is why originally bridal dresses were white.

In some Eastern cultures, white is considered the colour of death and sadness. Because of the colour of snow, white is often linked with winter and cold temperatures.

What comes to mind when I think of “white”?

My floorboards! I have white floorboards (fake wood) because it reflects light, and I want my flat to be as light as possible. I thrive with light!

Sources and further interesting reading

Do you get strong mental images or specific thoughts when you think about certain colours? Do you ever take the colour psychology into account when you’re designing something with colour? I’d love to hear about it! 😃

Thanks for reading. :) Leave a reply?

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