Psychology Behind Color 101

Have you ever been affected by color?

No matter what your initial response was to that first question, the answer is yes.


The way in which an individual sees, understands, and interprets color can vary depending upon that person’s culture, gender, language, senses, and personality.

However, according to research done by Joe Hallock, there are a few generalized understandings of what particular colors mean to particular people. Colors often have emotional value that can be perceived to have positive or negative value.

Have you ever wondered why all your favorite food chains have the color red in them? Well-- that is because the color red stimulates chemicals in your brain that triggers appetite. Just think about it, Red Robin-- YUMMM, Applebee's, T.G.I.F., Ruby Tuesday's, Arby's, Wendy's, McDonald's, ect... you get it. 


All the famous chains who are smart KNOW and USE this color scheme... Burger King has it all wrong.

Colors also appeal to the senses. Colors can seem warm, cool, dry, and wet. This is a natural physical reaction that humans have and it is thought to stem from our preconceived notions about earthly elements: sun, fire, water, and sky. Our preconceived notions of these elements influence how our bodies subconsciously react to different colors. Understanding how colors can affect the central nervous system is key to understanding how to influence an individual in the way you want.


Hallock’s research states,  “S. M. Newhall, a researcher (and author) performed a study where he used 50 color samples to solicit responses from 297 observers to find out what colors best represented warm and cool. Newhall stated in his findings that, “the ‘warmest’ judgments show a minor mode in the violet…but a strikingly major mode in the red-orange region. The ‘coolest’ judgments exhibit no such marked mode, but range irregularly all the way from yellow through green and blue to purple.” (Hallock). Warm colors were found to be associated with the red-orange region. In this way there are more colors that can relax rather than stimulate the nervous system. Red-orange ranges will excite the nervous system, while cooler colors of blue, green, ect… will tend to relax the nervous system.


Below is research collected by Biren, that shows associations between particular words and what colors people associate with those words:

  • Trust: Most chose the color blue (34%), followed by white (21%) and green (11%)

  • Security: Blue came out on top (28%), followed by black (16%) and green (12%)

  • Speed: Red was overwhelmingly the favorite (76%)

  • Cheapness: Orange came first (26%), followed by yellow (22%) and brown (13%)

  • High Quality: Black was the clear winner (43%), then blue (20%)

  • High Tech: This was almost evenly split, with black the top choice (26%) and blue and gray second (both 23%)

  • Reliability: Blue was the top choice (43%), followed by black (24%)

  • Courage: Most chose purple (29%), then red (28%), and finally blue (22%)

  • Fear/Terror: Red came in first (41%) followed by black (38%)

  • Fun: Orange was the top choice (28%), followed closely by yellow (26%) and then purple (17%)

According to both the research by Kissmetrics and Hallock:

  • Blue is the favored color by both men (57%) and women (35%), though it is more favored by men

  • Men dislike brown the most, while women dislike orange the most.

  • Colors that were disliked were also seen as "cheap."

  • Men tolerate achromatic colors (i.e. shades of gray) better.

  • Women preferred tints while men preferred pure or shaded colors.

  • A majority of men (56%) and women (76%) preferred cool colors in general.

  • Orange and yellow grow increasingly disliked as both generations get older.


These statistics and statements are generalized and subjective to this study, however, the research shows that it is fair for some generalized conclusions to be made. For instance, have you ever wondered why more females tend to know exactly the distinction between seafoam green, teal, and turquoise? Well, this study showed that that could be because women tend to be able to see more colors than men in general. “They are more aware of slight color differences within a color range” (Hallock).

Ok, so colors are fun, but what’s the point?!

Well, in short, understanding your audience is key to understanding how colors can affect them. Different cultures and societies have different meanings for many things; color is no exception to this rule. Our best advice is that color is key-- but a good place to start is by figuring out who exactly your audience is and how color affects their behavioral tendencies!

Julia Mudrock

Pursue PersuadeComment