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Psychology of Color


Woman relaxing in her living room, focus on vase

Have you been thinking about painting this fall? Perhaps you’re in need of a lift? Whether it’s your mood that needs lifting or if you want to increase the energy and “lightness” in your house, yellow may be your color. Some research suggests that yellow can increase self-esteem and can strengthen levels of overall well being and health.

In Feng Shui yellow is the color of sunlight, cheerful and uplifting, it brightens any home or office with a breath of fresh air.  It can also create a cozy warmth with a welcoming feeling to nearly any room in your house. There are so many options to choose from whether it’s a bright and shiny lemon yellow or a pale creamy or buttery yellow.



If you’re just not sure about putting yellow on the walls, you can try a fun painting project with furniture, say your dining room chairs? Even small things with that yellow glow as in yellow colored candles, flowers, or yellow and gold colored crystals like citrine and pyrite can bring a little light into a dull, dark room.

So try a little yellow in your home this fall… it just may ward off the dark winter to come!


What Color Are You?

In the last blog I talked about some basic emotion evoking properties of the four psychological primary colors.  There are however eleven basic colors all together. These include the secondary and the technically “non color” colors.

Imagine you’re on the beach, with your feet in the powdery white sand… in Tahiti.  You look out to the exquisitely crystal clear aqua blue and turquoise colored ocean as it fades out to the horizon and blends into the sky.  Or imagine yourself in the Gorge hiking up to the top of Multnomah Falls amongst the perfectly untouched greenery of ferns, wildflowers and hundreds of species of plant life and trees. I get feelings of quiet peace and calm serenity.  What feelings do YOU get?

It’s amazing how not even actually seeing the colors but just imaging them can also evoke a particular emotion!

Here are more psychological properties of basic colors…


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.

VIOLET. Spiritual.

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 introversive 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.


Positive: Physical tranquility, nurture, warmth, femininity, love, sexuality, survival of the species.
Negative: Inhibition, emotional claustrophobia, emasculation, physical weakness.

Being a tint of red, pink also affects us physically, but it soothes, rather than stimulates. (Interestingly, red is the only color that has an entirely separate name for its tints. Tints of blue, green, yellow, etc. are simply called light blue, light green etc.) Pink is a powerful color, psychologically. It represents the feminine principle, and survival of the species; it is nurturing and physically soothing. Too much pink is physically draining and can be somewhat emasculating.


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.


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.
It is a myth that black clothes are slimming:


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.


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.

What colors surround you at work, or at home? They just might be what’s sparking a certain amount of irritability with a coworker or not allowing you to harness your full creative potential, or maybe they’re what’s keeping you from relaxing when you get home. Or just maybe your home is your oasis and you wouldn’t change a thing?  Something to think about…


~Melanie Gibbs


Psychology of Color – Part 1

What Color Are You?

Have you ever gone somewhere and felt agitated, or irritable and couldn’t put your finger on why?  Or maybe there is a particular coffee shop you love going into and just relaxing while you enjoy your java.  Sometimes the reasons are unmistakable, but to many we’re not sure why some places just seem to evoke subtle, or sometimes strong emotional reactions.

Can these feelings be encouraged by something that is sometimes seen as simply just a color?  You betcha!  We can ALL be affected by this phenomenon.  The emotions are funny things, but if you think about it, it’s really not all that strange. SO many things related to our senses affect the way we feel, from textures and tastes, to music and smells!  Color is no different.  It’s actually more powerful than you might think.

In this first section I’ll describe some effects of the psychological primary colors…


RED. Physical.

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 colour. 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 colour, with no subtlety. It is stimulating and lively, very friendly. At the same time, it can be perceived as demanding and aggressive.


YELLOW. Emotional.

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 colour, psychologically. The right yellow will lift our spirits and our self-esteem; it is the colour of confidence and optimism. Too much of it, or the wrong tone in relation to the other tones in a colour scheme, can cause self-esteem to plummet, giving rise to fear and anxiety. Our “yellow streak” can surface.


BLUE. Intellectual.

Positive: Intelligence, communication, trust, efficiency, serenity, duty, logic, coolness, reflection, calm.
Negative: Coldness, aloofness, lack of emotion, unfriendliness.

Blue is the colour 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 colour 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 favourite colour. However, it can be perceived as cold, unemotional and unfriendly.

GREEN. Balance.

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 centre of the spectrum, it is the colour of balance – a more important concept than many people realise. 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.

…To be continued…

-Melanie Gibbs