Colour Psychology

Colour Psychology

As commonly and instinctively as we use Colour Psychology in our daily lives, it has managed to stay a very less researched topic. A quick search on the internet will most definitely give you a Wikipedia page but most of it is focussed on what we already know. It is a commonly known fact that colour Psychology plays a very important role in marketing. Simple rules like women’s brands tend to have brand colours in the general range of reds and pinks and that dull colours never work for a brand whose target market is children under the age of 12 are just some of the things we assume is common sense. But there is much more to colours and their roles in our lives that has yet to be explored.


The science of psychology itself is relatively new, being 100 years old at most, but the study of how colours affect our lives has been a topic of discussion since long before. Aristotle developed the first theory related to colour, believing it was sent from God through heavenly rays of light. He said that all colours known to us came from the colours white or black. He related colours to the four elements – earth, water, fire and air. Describing how fire had the colour red and yellow in it while air stood for the colour white. This was followed by Sir Isaac Newton’s theory of colours in his book Opticks: or, A Treatise of the Reflexions, Refractions, Inflexions and Colours of Light published in 1704. This book analyzes the basic nature and behaviour of light by using refraction through prisms and lenses, the diffraction of light by closely spaced sheets of glass, and the behaviour of color mixtures with spectral lights or pigment powders. In 1810 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe published a book called Theory of Colours (German: Zur Farbenlehre) about his views on the nature of colours and how these are perceived by humans. It was published in English in 1840. The book contains detailed descriptions of phenomena such as coloured shadows, refraction, and chromatic aberration. So Goethe’s work was the first of its kind to start considering the physiological aspect of colours.

Colour is light, it’s all around us at all times. The first thing we consciously or subconsciously notice about any object is its colour so it most certainly plays an important role in how we view things. Some researchers believe this is part of our primitive instincts, the ones we needed to survive in the wild but which we have now adapted to more sophisticated uses. We are very easily swayed when choosing which brands to shop with, just by their brand colours. Even blind or colour blind people are sensitive to colour Psychology. Although, it still also works alongside our survival instincts. For example, if a housefly was to enter your house, you wouldn’t be very surprised to see a blob of black flying around, but if this same insect happened to be yellow and black in colour, you would immediately become very wary of it.

Colour Theories

Micco Groenholm talking about colour affects talks about the difference between colour Psychology and colour symbolism. While colour Psychology talks about unconscious colour preferences that show us a person’s personality, colour symbolism is the result of cultural or religious biases which have caused certain colours to be associated with certain things. Colour symbolism is ingrained in our brains and does not happen subconsciously. A few examples of colour symbolism are how the western world views green as the colour for jealousy, while in Ireland it is seen as a representative of good luck. The religion Islam uses the colour green to represent peace. A lot of times the symbolism may contradict itself for certain people in certain areas. Such as green, while being seen as the colour representing jealousy in America, due to the influence of Shakespeare who first used the term ‘green-eyed monster’, also represents wealth and social status because of the green dollars. Most Americans know both these meanings for the colour, but the meaning that they choose to believe in is based entirely on them and their personal experiences. This difficulty of differentiating between colour Psychology and colour symbolism may be the biggest discouragement to more research on these topics.

Another limitations that researchers face when studying colour Psychology are the shades and tones in colours. There are 11 basic colours recognised by everyone but colours exist on a spectrum, even a slight shift in tone or shade may result in a completely new colour. It isn’t sure how much this would affect how people feel about the particular colour but it is known that people respond differently to warm-toned colours and cool-toned colours and the same colour can exist in both warm and cool-toned forms. 

Colour Preferences

Unlike usual assumptions, no colour has only negative or only positive connotations. How you see each colour depends entirely on you and the environment that you have been surrounded with. Almost every research that has been done about the preferred colour in adults worldwide, has resulted in the same answer, blue, yet blue is also associated with negative emotions such as sadness, coldness, etc. This is why, which colour a person prefers, after taking into account the culture they were brought up in, may tell us a lot about their personality. For example, while someone may see red as the colour for passion, others may see it as the colour for aggression. What is interesting is to note that everyone all around the world does seem to agree on the fact that red represents a strong emotion. Colour preference varies, not just by region, religion and culture but also age and gender. It was found that while adults did have a colour that the majority of them preferred, children’s answers varied more. This may be due to the lack of learned colour symbolism in children or a lack of a properly cultivated personality.


Most of the research done in colours is about the colour preferences of a group or of an individual and how these reveal their personality. An important part of colour preference is usually forgotten and that is when other people associate a particular colour with a person. As is generally agreed upon, different people see different aspects of our personality and this affects how they think of us in general. People sharing the same culture tend to relate the same meanings to a colour. 


A very telling way of understanding personality as seen by other people is to ask them to choose which colour they associate with you. While some of these associations are unconsciously made with a colour they see the person wearing a lot or talking about a lot, more often than not, they come from the subconscious. Since Colour Psychology is backed by such little research, it has a lot of disbelievers and appropriately so. Most of what is known about Colour Psychology is not usually backed by facts but it is always a topic of interest and does have some much more believable aspects but even then the infinite possibilities of Colour Psychology have only been scratched on the surface by the research conducted on it. 

Sulmaaz Siddiqui

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