How Colors Impact Moods, Feelings, and Behaviors

By Kendra Cherry, About.com Guide

Colors, like features, follow the changes of the emotions. – Pablo Picasso

(Painting By Jimmy Quek Prabhakara)

In 1666, English scientist Sir Isaac Newton discovered that when pure white light passes through a prism, it separates into all of the visible colors. Newton also found that each color is made up of a single wavelength and cannot be separated any further into other colors.

Further experiments demonstrated that light could be combined to form other colors. For example, red light mixed with yellow light creates an orange color. A color resulting from a mix of two other colors is known as a metamer. Some colors, such as yellow and purple, cancel each other out when mixed and result in a white light. These competing colors are known as complements.

Color Psychology – The Psychological Effects of Color

While perceptions of color are somewhat subjective, there are some color effects that have universal meaning. Colors in the red area of the color spectrum are known as warm colors and include red, orange and yellow. These warm colors evoke emotions ranging from feelings of warmth and comfort to feelings of anger and hostility.

Colors on the blue side of the spectrum are known as cool colors and include blue, purple and green. These colors are often described as calm, but can also call to mind feelings of sadness or indifference.

Color Psychology as Therapy

Several ancient cultures, including the Egyptians and Chinese, practiced chromotherapy, or using colors to heal. Chromotherapy is sometimes referred to as light therapy or colorology and is still used today as a holistic or alternative treatment.

In this treatment:

  • Red was used to stimulate the body and mind and to increase circulation.
  • Yellow was thought to stimulate the nerves and purify the body.
  • Orange was used to heal the lungs and to increase energy levels.
  • Blue was believed to soothe illnesses and treat pain.
  • Indigo shades were thought to alleviate skin problems.

Most psychologists view color therapy with skepticism and point out that the supposed effects of color have been exaggerated. Colors also have different meanings in different cultures. Research has demonstrated in many cases that the mood-altering effects of color may only be temporary. A blue room may initially cause feelings of calm, but the effect dissipates after a short period of time.