The Psychology of Color

It’s been known for centuries that color can have an impact on the human brain. Specifically, different colors can influence a person’s mood and feelings.

So, what are they?

“Humans react powerfully on an emotional level to colors,” writes author Cath Caldwell. “Research has shown that there is consistency in the responses people have to colors.” The author goes on to explain: “For example, warmer colors (red, orange, yellow) generally stimulate, while cooler colors (blue, indigo, violet) are calming.”

Although color psychology is a tool more used in art and design rather than in pure psychology nowadays, colors can certainly influence a person’s state of mind, as the above mentioned words indicate.

“Although interpretations vary hugely, color is used all over the world to symbolize collective values,” Caldwell writes. “Red, for instance, means love and passion to many but is also the color of blood, conflict, and revolution.” She goes on to write further: “In China, red is the luckiest color, whereas in South Africa, it is worn by mourners.”

Other examples abound.

The color green, for instance, can be interpreted to mean that someone or something is “refreshed,” grounded,” or “optimistic,” while the color green can also mean “luck,” “fertility,” and “jealousy.”

So, although there is some agreement on the meaning of some colors, the psychology of color can and does vary geographically and throughout time. One thing is for certain, however: Color does impact human psychology as well as culture.

Caldwell explains how color works on a technical level.

“An object looks a certain color to us because its surface absorbs some wavelengths and reflects others,” she writes. “For example, a banana looks yellow because it reflects only yellow light—all the other wavelengths are absorbed by its surface.”

When describing a color, it is important to keep the following factors in mind:

  1. Hue – “. . . is described by the color’s wavelength.”
  2. Tint – “. . . Are lighter version [of the color’s] hue.”
  3. Shade – “. . . Mixing a hue with black makes a darker version.”
  4. Tonal Value – “. . . describes the specific qualities of a hue.”

One final thing to understand is that some colors or hues can compliment and clash with one another, and this is described as color theory. In brief, the color wheel theory is a 12-section wheel “that shows how the colors relate to each other.” Colors can contract with one another or balance one another based on their position on the color wheel.

To conclude, color can have an impact on human psychology. Although there is a wide interpretation of what a color means, there is enough similarity that some general guidelines about how color is used to impact human psychology emerge. Finally, colors can be described by four factors, which include hue, tint, shade, and tonal value.

The next time you deliberately look at a color, as yourself a simple question: “How does this make me feel?”


Caldwell, C. (2019). Graphic design for everyone. DK Publishing, New York, NY.

Brooke Lamberti

Brooke Lamberti is a content writer based out of Scranton, Pennsylvania. She received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Marywood University, and has prior career experience working in social work and domestic violence advocacy. She has a passion for writing and helping others.

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