Color Theory and Emotions


Color is not just an aesthetic choice. The color of the environment may affect a person's mood, change the tone of a room and even impact cognitive performance. While color preference is a personal thing, research has shown correlations between color and mood. The right color may create an uplifting environment, while the wrong color might cause subtle feelings of frustration or depression.

Natural and Psychological Associations

  • Color impacts our mood in two ways, with natural and psychological associations. Natural associations are rooted in what we see -- the sky is blue, grass is green, blood is red, fire is orange. These types of associations are nearly universal. Psychological associations, however, are tied more to cultural references than to nature. Green might be associated with luck, cash, ecology and other positive attributes. It also might be associated with illness, envy or greed.

Color Meanings

  • In Western culture, black is associated with power, elegance and formality as well as with death and evil. Red is energetic -- the color of passion, love, war, danger and desire. White is considered pure -- the color of innocence and cleanliness. Blue, the color of the sky and sea, connotes depth and stability, loyalty and wisdom. As the color of nature, green indicates growth and harmony, freshness and fertility. Purple conjures up images of royalty, power, nobility and luxury. Orange and yellow indicate happiness, joy, sunshine and energy.

The Color Yellow

  • Most colors have mixed meanings but none quite so much as yellow. Yellow attracts attention and may create an uplifting, cheerful mood. The most cheerful of colors has a negative side, however. Yellow is the color of cowardice, so it may be seen as childish or cheap. Yellow might produce feelings of frustration and may make people more prone to losing their tempers. Yellow is a color of extremes -- either all the way up or all the way down.

Color Harmony

  • How colors are combined have significant impact on how they are perceived. Complementary colors, those opposite each other on the color wheel, create a dynamic that can be powerful or jarring. Analogous colors, next to each other on the wheel, are common in nature and tend to be more soothing. A triad of colors evenly spaced on the color wheel create vibrant combinations that may overwhelm. A split-complementary scheme, where a base color is combined with the two colors adjacent to its complement, creates an energetic feeling that is much less jarring than the complementary scheme.

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