The Psychology Of Color


Experts have long known that color affects individuals in ways that transcend basic aesthetic appreciation. As humans, we have palpable emotional responses to different colors. The study of these responses is collectively known as color psychology. Understanding the basics of color psychology can help in creating a pleasing color scheme in the home. Each basic color carries with it not only social connotations but also emotional overtones.

White generally represents purity or innocence, and in a home can convey a sense of spaciousness and freshness. Though easy, a color scheme based entirely in white will turn out seeming dull and sterile. Save white for ceilings and as an accent color to make other colors pop.

Black has long carried associations of death and negativity and is probably not the best color to paint an entire room, unless it has a specific purpose (like a dark room for developing pictures). Definitely save black for small accents or decorative purposes.

Yellow carries overtones of happiness and optimism. Too much yellow, however, can have the opposite effect and can sometimes make people feel hostile or angry. Bright yellow can cause eyestrain because of the amount of light it reflects back at the eye. If you’re going to paint a room yellow, break it up with white or another accent color, or try a muted yellow in the earth tone family.

Red carries very strong emotional connections. Think of all the emotional extremes that are associated with red, like both love and anger (or hate). Studies have also shown that red makes us hungry. Red as a room color can be warm, inviting, comforting and passionate. Applied poorly, though, red can also create feelings of anxiousness or anger. In the home, avoid bright red and opt instead for more muted shades. Even then, avoid painting an entire room red. Instead, consider a red accent wall, or pair reds with another contrasting color, split vertically by a chair rail.

As a combination of both yellow and red, orange carries the associations of both yellow and red: warmth, energy, and excitement. Orange is also a very cheerful color and exudes confidence. Bright orange (think of the Home Depot logo) might be too strong to use on a whole room. Earthy oranges such as terra cotta or lighter oranges in the apricot family will make a room feel homey and inviting.

Green carries overtones of energy and renewal since it is strongly associated with nature and has been an enduring symbol of fertility. Emotionally, green evokes tranquility, health, and calm … but also is associated with jealousy (remember Shakespeare’s green-eyed monster?). In a color scheme, green can be inviting and refreshing. Light greens leave a room looking bright and airy, whereas a dark green can make a room feel cramped if not applied properly.

Emotionally, blue carries calming and tranquil overtones, which may have something to do with its association with water. Blue has a tendency to make people feel more secure than other colors. Studies have shown that people are more productive in blue rooms, but also that blue can lead to feelings of sadness or melancholy. Despite this, blue remains the most popular color for wall paint.

Purple is associated with royalty and wealth and also wisdom and spirituality. Many wildflowers are purple – thistles, violets, irises, orchids – which may be where the wisdom association comes from. Many people avoid purple in decorating schemes, which makes it a good color if you’re looking for something unique. Darker purples should be limited to accents, while light, airy purples, like lilac or orchid can be used room-wide.

Earth tones are all the rage these days, leading to many popular variations on brown. Brown evokes comfort, strength, reliability and security but can also cause feelings of sadness and isolation. Darker browns are great as accent colors and more neutral shades are great room-wide.

Like red, pink is associated with love and romance, and is also thought to have a calming effect on people. Even though it is mostly associated with the bedrooms of young girls, pink can be successfully used to paint any room in the home. A light, petal pink can work well in almost any room in the house.