Color Symbolism and Psychology

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Color is something that is all around us, yet most people never think twice about the direct effect it has on how they perceive things. Once you really start to pay attention, however, it is clear that certain colors mean different things depending on your location and culture. For example, in the Western world, death is usually associated with the color black, while it is white that is the color of death in the East. White, however, means something completely different in the West, and is a symbol of purity that is traditionally worn at weddings. As you can see, this could be very confusing, and those not familiar with the symbolism of a color in an unfamiliar culture could perceive it as meaning something totally different. Along with being extremely symbolic, color is also believed to have different effects on mood and behavior. The study of the effect of color on behavior is known as "color psychology", and while it is not completely proven to be accurate, many people truly believe that color can greatly influence the way someone acts and feels. Even if there is no truth in this, many of the color psychology beliefs have influenced sayings that have become apart of popular culture. Being "green with envy" or "feeling blue" are just a few examples of colors being used to represent emotions or mindsets.

In the Western part of the world alone, colors have taken on so many different symbolic meanings. Here are just a few of the meanings that color has been associated with, in the United States particularly.

Elegance, wisdom, boredom, and mourning.

Purity, peace, innocence, and simplicity.

Evil, sophistication, mystery, and death.

Passion, love, danger, and anger.

Loyalty, depression, men, and tranquility.

Nature, luck, money, and envy.

Joy, optimism, cowardice, and hazards.

Sensuality, spirituality, creativity, and royalty.

Warning, playfulness, enthusiasm, and balance.

Calm, tradition, dullness, and simplicity.

Femininity, health, marriage, and gratitude.

While these colors may be symbolic of these certain emotions or traits in the Western world, many different cultures use them to represent various other things. In India, the color blue is associated with the god Krishna, the color green with Islam, red with fertility and weddings, and white with mourning and funerals. Asian cultures see yellow as a very royal and imperial color, red as a symbol of celebration, luck, and prosperity, and white as a symbol of mourning and death. While green may symbolize good luck in Western cultures, in China, "having a green hat" is another way of saying that a man's wife is cheating on him! In Ireland, green represents Catholicism, while orange represents Protestantism. In Thailand, purple is worn when in mourning, and in the Netherlands, orange symbolizes royalty. Natural colors are frequently associated with seasons and cardinal directions, though which color represents which varies greatly among cultures. Most cultures have a negative perception of the color black, and one particular experiment showed that sports teams with primarily black uniforms were more likely to receive penalties. Taped, staged football matches with one team wearing black and the other wearing white showed that referees were more likely to penalize the team in black for almost identical plays.

Color acts as more than a symbol, however, as some believe that it can actually affect someone's mood or state of mind. Color psychology is the investigation of the effect of color on human behavior and feeling. Many mainstream psychologists view this field as a type of "alternative medicine", as there isn't very much scientific evidence supporting their beliefs. However, those that believe strongly in color psychology, known as color consultants, believe that most people seem to have the same emotional reactions to the same colors; despite their symbolic meaning. They claim that red colors are viewed more as "warm", while blue and green are often viewed as "cool". "Warm" hues are viewed as active and exciting, and have been shown to increase body tensions, while "cooler" hues are known to be soothing and passive, supposedly releasing tension.

Color consultants are also known for their experiments with rooms painted different colors and the responses they receive. Studies have shown that weight lifters performed better in blue rooms, babies cry more in yellow rooms, and pink rooms have helped to calm down prisoners. Likewise, red has been shown to increase appetite and motivate action, green creates a cozy, warm feeling, and blue calms and relaxes. While questions have been raised about the accuracy of these "new" ideals, it turns out that they may not be quite so new. Ancient civilizations also believed that color influenced behavior, and the ancient Chinese, Egyptians, and Indians all believed in Chromotherapy, or the use of color in healing.

However, while these studies may seem accurate, results of a color having a universal effect on a group of people have been inconclusive. When it really comes down to it, the effect of color is more culturally symbolic than it is psychological. People feel and react to color based on how their culture has taught them to react, thus debunking the experiments. One thing is for certain though; there is much more to color than meets the eye!


More about this author: Sarah Granger

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