The influence of colors on emotions and abilities
Last modified: 16-10-2020
Colors are a very important issue for many people. Choosing the right color for the interior or clothing is often a difficult decision. However, those who expect that I will give simple advice will be disappointed ;) The psychology of colors is not yet a developed field of science and there are no simple tips. However, you will learn from this article what is already known about the influence of colors on emotions and the level of performance of various tasks.
Color psychology: Emotions
What colors are the most liked? In Western culture, the most favorite color among adults is blue, followed by red and green. It looks a bit different in children. 7-year-olds like yellow, blue and red the most. In addition, bright and more saturated colors arouse more pleasant emotions.
Long wave colors (e.g. red, yellow) have also been shown to be more exciting than short wave colors (e.g. blue, green). This is confirmed by physiological tests such as EEG and skin conductivity tests.
Kaya and Epps showed participants in their study different colors (primary, e.g. red, intermediate, e.g. yellow-red, and achromatic, i.e. white, black and gray) and asked them what emotions they associated with the given colors and what emotions they evoked for them. The results were as follows:
- Red – the largest group of respondents (29%) indicated a feeling of anger, but often happiness and excitement were also mentioned (approx. 20%), and 15% of participants associated this color with a feeling of love.
- Yellow – 75% of participants indicated happiness, but also often spoke of excitement and energy.
- Green – the color green was most often associated with calmness and happiness (over 60% in total indicated these emotions), as well as with comfort and peace.
- Blue – over 60% of participants said that this color evoked calmness in them, and 10% indicated happiness.
- Purple – in 29% of respondents, purple caused a feeling of calmness, in 21% a feeling of happiness, but at the same time in 13% a feeling of sadness.
- Yellow-red – more than half said that yellow-red color causes happiness or excitement, and energy was also mentioned quite often.
- Green-yellow – this color was definitely the worst rated. In almost 60% it caused disgust or sickness, although at the same time 11% of the participants indicated happiness.
- Blue-green – most often (37%) was associated with happiness. Calmness, energy and excitement were also often indicated.
- Purple-blue – almost 40% respondents said that this color evoked calmness. Moreover, 13% indicated happiness and 10% sadness.
- Red-purple – this color was most often (26%) associated with happiness, followed by the feeling of love (17%), calmness and excitement.
- White – white color was associated mainly with innocence (34%), emptiness (26%) and peace (13%).
- Gray – according to the survey participants, gray is the color of sadness or depression (55%), and 14% indicated a feeling of boredom.
- Black – like gray, black was most often associated with sadness or depression (48%). Moreover, 17% of respondents indicated a feeling of fear and 14% a feeling of power.
A study was also conducted (Joosten et al.) at which participants played a specially prepared video game. The character in the game went through five rooms, each of which was of a different color (light blue, dark green, yellow and red, and no color as control conditions). It turned out that red evoked strongly negative emotions, while yellow evoked positive emotions.
However, one should be careful when trying to translate the results of tests carried out in the laboratory into practical applications. One of the few studies under natural conditions was conducted in the Netherlands among employees of one of the offices. One of the rooms where employees held regular meetings was painted red, the other was blue, and the third was left gray as control conditions. It was measured how the color of the walls would affect the perceived productivity of employees, teamwork satisfaction and well-being.
It turned out that none of these indicators was affected by the color of the walls. Moreover, when survey participants were asked how important various aspects of the interior were to them, they most often mentioned air quality and temperature, and the color of the walls did not matter much to them. More than half admitted that they do not care which room they meet in. Among those who indicated a specific color of the room, the most (17%) said that they liked the blue room the most, but this result is only slightly higher than the gray (16%) and red (12%). The respondents were also asked about their favorite colors. As in other studies, the greatest number (39%) indicated blue as their favorite color. However, the question about the preferred color of the meeting room gave completely different results. The largest group – 36% admitted that they prefer white meeting rooms, and only 8% indicated blue. In the general question about the favorite color, no one indicated white.
Color psychology: Abilities
Most of the studies that examined the influence of colors on the level of performance of various tasks focused on red, often compared to blue or green.
Several studies have shown that people who saw red color before or during various tasks performed them worse than those who saw blue, green, or achromatic colors. The reduction in abilities applies to, for example, math, memory or language tasks, including intelligence tests.
Moreover, when one study (Elliot and Maier) allowed participants to choose the level of difficulty of the tasks they would perform, those previously shown red chose more simple tasks than those shown green or gray.
The results are explained by associations caused by the red color. It is associated with failure and danger, which provokes avoidance-type motivations. People who are motivated in this way tend to avoid failure, as opposed to approach motivation when the person tries to achieve the best results.
The negative affect of red color was also shown by heart rate measurements in the study by Elliot and colleagues. In subjects who were shown red before starting the intelligence test, a decrease in the HF (High Frequency) component of sinus rhythm variability was observed, which indicates stress. Blue or gray did not cause such an effect.
However, red can also have a positive effect. Mehta and Zhu showed that red color has better influence at performance of tasks that require concentration and focus on details than blue.
Mehta and Zhu also investigated the effects of color on creativity. They found that people who were shown blue than red do better in tasks that requires creativity. According to them, this color, thanks to associations with openness and calmness, activates the motivation of the approach type. In this way, it encourages innovative ways of solving problems and not relying only on proven strategies.
Researchers also showed that the impact of colors on the level of task performance is not dependent on the preferences of the participants themselves. In one of their studies, they informed participants what their task would be and asked which color they thought would help them achieve better results. Both in the group that performed a task requiring creativity and in the group that performed a task requiring concentration, the majority chose the color blue, although in the latter group – as mentioned above – red produced better results.
While blue helps creativity more than red, according to Meht and Zhu, other studies show that green color is even better. Lichtenfeld and colleagues showed that green improves creativity more than white, gray, red and blue.
An analysis of the results in combat sports during the 2004 Olympic Games showed that competitors in red outfits had a better chance of winning than in blue. This was especially noticeable in men’s fights. This is explained by the association of the color red with domination and aggression, which can affect both the players and the referee, who may involuntarily better judge a player wearing a red suit. Some data also indicate that players in black outfits have a greater chance of winning than in white.
Analyzes in team sports gave similar results, although here the results are not clear. An analysis of football matches in the English league that spanned more than 50 years showed that teams in red outfits won more often than in other colors. However, no such effect was shown in the German, Spanish or Polish league, as well as in the US hockey league.
There are also studies (Larionescu and Pantelimon) showing a higher number of hits in the basket after changing the backlight from blue to red. Green color, on the other hand, affects less fatigue while riding a bicycle than red or gray (after: Elliot and Maier).
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- Elliot, A. i in. (2007). Color and Psychological Functioning: The Effect of Red on Performance Attainment. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 136(1), 154-168. (pdf at rochester.edu)
- Elliot, A. i in. (2011). A subtle threat cue, heart rate variability, and cognitive performance. Psychophysiology, 48, 1340-1345. (pdf at rochester.edu)
- Elliot, A., Maier, M. (2014). Color Psychology: Effects of Perceiving Color on Psychological Functioning in Humans. Annual Review of Psychology, 65, 95-120. (abstract at annualreviews.org)
- Joosten, E. i in. (2010). Colors and Emotions in Video Games. 11th International Conference on Intelligent Games and Simulation GAME-ON 2010 (pdf at psu.edu)
- Kaya, N., Epps, H. (2004). Relationship between color and emotion: a study of college students. College Student Journal, 38(3), 396-405. (pdf at academia.edu)
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- Lichtenfeld, S. i in. (2012). Fertile Green: Green Facilitates Creative Performance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38(6), 784-797. (pdf at renevanmaarsseveen.nl)
- Mehta, R., Zhu, R. (2009). Blue or Red? Exploring the Effect of Color on Cognitive Task Performances. Science, 323(5918), 1-5. (pdf at uvm.edu)
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Source of picture: Ws hein [CC BY-SA 3.0 lub GFDL], Wikimedia Commons
Author: Maja Kochanowska