Colour My World – Introduction to the Psychology of Colour



How we react to colours comes from a variety of sources, the natural world, our culture and even semantics.  Nature is hugely influential on how we percieve and interpret colours.  One of the easiest ways to understand colour psychology is to think about how and when we view specific colours in nature.

For example, when the weather is good we expect to see a blue (calming, serene, trustworthy) sky, green (calming, peaceful, reassuring) foliage, brown (down-to-earth, dependable) earth, yellow (bright, happy, fun) sun, white (peaceful) fluffy clouds.   When the clouds are dark grey or black we call them ‘intimidating’ and ‘threatening’, when we see red blood we think of potential danger and emergency and are physiologically stimulated by it (our blood pressure is rises).

Why do we love pictures of tropical scenery so much?  They’re mainly full of mid blues and greens which calm and relax us.

We also interpret colours culturally, for example brides wear white wedding dresses in Western cultures and thus the colour has come to symbolise purity and freshness.   Green is the colour of a political party ‘The Greens’ in Australia and represents a left wing political view, it’s also the colour of the environmental movement and we talk about ‘being green’ meaning caring about the environment.

Green is also used semantically to represent envy (green with envy), having the blues is another way of saying that you’re depressed, as is a visit by the black dog.

Each time we see a colour we are using our natural perceptions plus our cultural and semantic understandings to interpret it and give it meaning.

Are there any colours that are perceived in a particular way in your culture?

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  • I was just thinking about this subject yesterday. Black is my primary colour. Just recently I have gone crazy for taupe. Thoughts, my color psychology expert friend?

  • My only cultural comment on color is really historical, but at 68, much of my life qualifies as history. When I was a child I loved red, still do, and liked to wear it. I had a neighbor whose coloring was very much like mine whose father wouldn't let her wear red because he associated it with women of "easy virtue", in the way of Scarlett's red dress. Here's a nice description and a couple of pix.

  • I was hoping someone from a background in China would comment. As I understand it, they used red for happiness, good luck, and wedding dresses, and white for mourning. I wonder if that is still true?

  • In India too, red is an auspicious colour… brides wear it, Godesses are adorned with it and married women are forever encouraged to wear it…

    White on the contrary, is the colour of mourning… the colour of funeral, of widows…. totally contrasts the western world…

    Green is another auspicious colour in Indian culture, green glass bangles are often a sign of a married woman. You wear green during festvals, on important ocassions…. and not one of envy at all…

    black is the colour of doom… a lot of people would still not wear black!

  • I find it difficult to choose one favourite colour, my wardrobe has items of mixtures depending on the style that suits my body shape and whatever acceptable colour the garment comes in for my colouring. So that dictates what is in my wardrobe. Greys, taupe, beiges, some red, some teals, purple.
    I love the various shades of aqua green and white of the surf, so have a few items for the summer in those colours. Am attracted to fuschia and cobalt blues, but have autumn/warm colouring so have those in accessories after reading your advice on image. I positively hate burnt orange and olive, which I have worn a lot of in the past. Love your advice and look for it daily. You have helped me streamline my clothes as I have an impossibly tiny wardrobe and room.

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