How do different colours affect your mood, judgement and physiology?

Photo by Lidya Nada on Unsplash

You may have never realized the effect that colours have on human physiology, behaviour and mood. Every colour you see around you makes you feel a different way. 89% of the time colours influence your decisions, and is the primary reason for why we buy particular products. Well-established companies such as McDonalds, Nike and ESPN intelligently select colours to improve the success rates of the company, as it has a significant impact on the whole brand and how it is viewed by customers.

Are colours a catalyst to our behaviour?

Our emotional connection to colour is a lot deeper than we’re currently aware of. We are often unconsciously intimidated by black uniforms, creativity is commonly sparked in green rooms, wearing red inspires confidence and empowerment. The power of colour influences the way we think, feel, behave and how our brains have evolved to respond to them unconsciously, from our appetite to our productivity.

What does science reveal about the effects that colours have on the brain?

Colours have a symbiotic relationship with energy and matter. Every colour has a differing energy, frequency and wavelength, that is why colours can ramify your mood so much.

Colours directly target the Autonomic Nervous System(ANS) that functions and operates under involuntarily and subconscious control. The ANS innervates and regulates cardiac muscles, smooth muscles, internal organs, glands and blood vessels through either the sympathetic nervous system or parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system aims to mobilize the body during activity and extreme conditions, and the parasympathetic nervous system that performs to conserve the bodies energy. Therefore, the ANS system must work to keep the body’s blood pressure, contraction and dilation of blood vessels, temperature equilibrium, sweating and the gastrointestinal tract in balance.

Colours can affect the balance of the ANS system as certain wavelengths of colours create immense electrical impulses that activate photoreceptors in the body. When a certain colour is visualized the photoreceptors in the eyes relay the message which is directly sent to and identified by the retino-hypothalmic tract, that leads directly from the retina, and to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus sends neurons to the spinal cord in the thoracolumbar region that fires neurons to the sympathetic trunk. These neurons initiate blood vessels to either; constrict or dilate. Vasoconstriction and vasodilation leads to either an increase or a decrease in heart rate. An increase in heart rate will activate sweat glands that can stimulate sweating, depending on the colour visualized.

Do colours have enough power to influence our actions and physiology?

Colours can’t necessarily dictate your behaviour, but they sure can influence your decisions on your judgement and affect your mood, because colours activate the hypothalamus, and each colour focusses on either the sympathetic or parasympathetic nervous systems that evoke specific physiological responses, that cause a psychological reaction.

Blue is the world’s favourite colour, it is the colour that appears in nature, it is the colour of the sky and the ocean. Blue sends out signals of loyalty, its dependable, honest and trustworthy. It’s a great colour to wear to show that you’re an expert in your field, you’re calm, in control, and you know what you’re doing. Blue is also the colour of relaxation as it activates the anterior component of the hypothalamus that is in control of the ANS (parasympathetic nervous system) that has a calming effect on the body, resulting in contracting blood vessels, and decreasing blood flow and heart rate. Interestingly workers in a blue office perform better as they make 20% less errors, so blue can actually make you feel more wise, productive and improve cognitive performance, because it activates the parasympathetic division of the ANS. It is therefore a great colour to paint your walls to inspire productivity.

How does the colour red impact you? Red is the colour of passion, courage, strength and it can also be the colour of aggression and strain. Red is the most powerful and strongest colour. Many people link red to emergency fires, alarms and warning signs. On a physiological level, when you see red it increases pulse rates as it prompts the posterior region of the hypothalamus which integrates with the ANS (sympathetic nervous system) that causes dilation of blood vessels, an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, as more blood is needed for cardiac and smooth muscles, during activities and extreme conditions. Funnily, red also works as an appetite stimulant, so if you’re eating this weekend at a party and see a red plate, it will make you want to eat more. A lot of fast food restaurants, embrace red in their campaign logos as it aids in recall, attention and remembering words.

Grey and green have the opposite effect of red. Grey and green are a little more passive, They are not as attention grabbing as red, as they are passive neutral colours. Grey gives a passive low energy feeling to people, as it is a dull depressing colour. Grey is not a great thing to have in abundance as it indicates insecurity. Green presents harmony, rest and balance, together with grey, these two colours target the anterior hypothalamus that communicates to the ANS (parasympathetic nervous system) that evokes an anaesthetising effect on the body, because it has a sleep-inducing affect.

Purple is the colour of wealth, luxury and royalty, it makes things appear more expensive. Like blue, green and grey it also stimulates the anterior hypothalamus that regulates the parasympathetic nervous system. It has a sedating effect on the body and lowers blood pressure and heart rate. Hence why, lavender which is a shade lighter than purple is the colour of the universe, that brings about feelings of spirituality, awareness and contemplation. Lavender has grey tones throughout, it elicits the same emotional responses as grey, but a little more toned down.

Orange is the most energetic colour of the bunch. Sports teams and companies make logos and uniforms in orange and black because it is the colour of abundance, success and high energy. Orange is an uplifting colour that has a stimulating effect on the body through the sympathetic nervous system.

From a psychological standpoint colours have a universal effect and meaning on individuals that develop common emotional and physiological responses throughout.

7 Responses to “How do different colours affect your mood, judgement and physiology?”

  1. Natalia Gazibegovic says:

    Hi Megany, colours have a universal affect. Therefore they would respond to colours in the same way.

  2. Natalia Gazibegovic says:

    Hi Gary, I definitely did stumble across that in my research.

  3. Natalia Gazibegovic says:

    Thank you, I greatly appreciate your feedback!

  4. Tyler Sudholz says:

    Fascinating post, Natalia.
    It was really cool to read about the associations with different colours, but it came across as a bit of a wall of text. Perhaps you could separate it with some subheadings for each colour or splitting what you have into shorter paragraphs?

  5. megany says:

    really interesting post! i’m wondering how color affects people with color blindness? do you know if their emotions are impacted because they can’t see color the way a non-color blind person can?

  6. Gary Yang says:

    So fascinating! I wonder if there’s any evolutionary reason why we respond to different colours in such ways.

  7. Vebronia Solo says:

    Interesting topic! Although I skipped some scientific words related brain mechanism, I like your description about meaning behind colors.
    Indeed, colors affect my mood!