How Color Affects Our World

Jamie Nakasone
March 05, 2016

Color surrounds us. It’s in the foods we eat, the walls that shelter us, and the clothes we wear. Sometimes we take color for granted, because it’s just there. But more and more, people are realizing they can actually use color to shape and influence their world. 

To explore this intriguing topic, I enlisted the help of a psychologist, an artist, a teacher, and a friend who tries to “eat a rainbow every day.”

Our relationship with color is so deep that our language and culture is peppered with color references. Dr. June Ching, a Honolulu psychologist, said, “In everyday life, we often tend to link color to emotions. People often describe certain feeling states with color metaphors such as being so angry they see red, feeling down and blue, or being green with envy.  A successful person might be described as the golden one.”

My earliest memory of true color awareness was probably from grade school, when the teacher gave each of us a stiff, unwieldy paintbrush and put us in front of a sheet of paper. That may be the first time I realized color could be an individual choice.

Use of certain colors in art can trigger an emotion or a memory

For an expert take on this topic, I asked local wildlife artist Patrick Ching about his relationship with color. He agreed that color can be used to set a certain mood in an art piece. “Absolutely,” he said. “Colors, and subtle variances of color appeal directly to the viewer’s subconscious.”

Patrick explained, “One of my favorite colors is one I call ‘six foot deep sand bottom lagoon green.’ I’m sure there are shorter, less descriptive names for it, like ‘mint green toothpaste.’ I call it a ‘feel good’ color and I use it in my paintings often. It soothes the viewer and makes them feel like they’re on vacation in the Bahamas or Hawaii.”  (Pictured at right:  Patrick's favorite color on his car and in the ocean background. Photo provided courtesy of Patrick Ching.)

Whether you’re the artist or someone looking at an artist’s painting, Patrick said color evokes emotion and sometimes even a memory. “When the color is right, the artist knows it and says ‘Yes!’ When a color is off, the artist’s first reaction says it all, like that feeling you get when your car or surfboard comes to you from the paint shop and it’s not quite what you had in mind,” he said.

So what does this mean for you and me?

Can we use color to enhance our lives, help us achieve our goals, or improve our health? According to Dr. Ching, research in this area has shown interesting results, but color psychology is a relatively young field of study and more work has to be done in order to better understand it.

Dr. Ching said, “There are still a number of unanswered questions that researchers need to explore.  What are the implications of basic color properties: hue, lightness and chroma on affect, cognition or behavior? How do color associations develop? How powerful is the influence of color on long-term physical and psychological functioning? Can color be used to enhance cognitive functioning, student test-taking and employee productivity?”

Dr. Ching cited some interesting findings in this field:
*  Studies on color and athletic performance have linked wearing red to better performance and perceived performance in sport competitions.
*  A set of researchers examined statistics from the National Hockey League games and found that teams were penalized more for aggression while wearing black jersey uniforms.
*   In research of color and intellectual performance, viewing red prior to a challenging cognitive task has been shown to undermine performance.
*  Research on color and store evaluation has shown that blue on stores/logos increases quality and trustworthiness appraisals.

So maybe you haven’t read articles on color psychology research. That’s okay. Call it instinct or whatever you want, but I believe we all use color to enhance our daily lives. 

I asked Faith Tom, an elementary school teacher, if she uses color in her classroom to influence the mood of her students. Although she usually decorates the classroom according to the season or occasion, she said, “I think color does have some effect on kids. Bright colors such as red, yellow, or orange seem to have a more positive, light, and happy effect, whereas colors such as black seem to result in a more somber mood in the kids.”

Linh Hoang Poe, my fashionista friend who tries to “eat a rainbow every day,” said, “I believe that colors have healing and persuasive powers. Wear the right colors and have great success or wear the wrong color and feel awful. I prefer smooth and soft hues in my bedroom for peacefulness. I prefer robust colors for my kitchen. Bathrooms should never be light minty green (if you don't have your makeup on, the light green color will not enhance the way your skin looks).”

Linh offered some color tips for picking out clothing:
*  Pick the colors that go well with your skin tone. This is hard for some people to understand because they haven't observed themselves enough. The basic rule is to see if your skin has more undertones of yellow or blue.
*  If you must have the new trendy color, even though it doesn't look good on you, wear your best colors close to your face. Wear the trendy colors that don't look so good on you, lower on your body.
*  If you've heard compliments when wearing a certain color, that is probably one of your power colors.
*  Linh's final words:  Black is fine for clothing, but overrated. It takes a real woman to wear color and make it work.

How do certain colors make you feel? What colors appeal to you – in your clothing, your home, or other areas of your life? Share your thoughts with us below or in Facebook.

If you’d like to learn more about color and its effects on the world around us, I found an interesting website you can explore:

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