How Does Color Psychology Work?

ColorA lot of people only think of color as being cosmetic, but it’s actually much more important than that. Color psychology teaches that color is light and a source of life, meaning that there are a lot of reactions to it on a level far beyond whether it is cosmetically enjoyed. It is also seen to be nature’s signaling system, letting us know about danger and all sorts of other issues that might be important. Primitive man didn’t have the knowledge and the science that we have today to go by, so he (or she) had to use colors and other information to make a determination about what was safe and what was not. The primitive instincts that were thought to be important back then are not thought to mean much now, but our reaction to colors indicate that those instincts still matter.

Even though we might today be contemplating something in the grocery store instead of in a mud hut or in the forest, that doesn’t mean that we don’t care what color it is. Color has very powerful connotations, and if the color of something turns us off we’ll likely avoid that product and buy something that makes us feel better, even if we’re not conscious of doing so. Sometimes we just have a ‘gut feeling’ about something, and while not always related to color, it certainly can be affected by what we see and how that makes us feel. Red is a strong color, along with purple and other deep but vibrant colors. These colors can make us angry, and excitable, and also make us feel powerful. If we see something in the store with those kinds of colors on it we might feel empowered by buying it or it might turn us off. That can depend on the color, but also on our mood at the time, the package design, and what the product actually is.

There have been a lot of studies written on color psychology but none of them are really recent, and there’s a reason for this – researchers still can’t get results that are conclusive and descriptive enough to tell them anything more than they already know. This makes explaining how color psychology actually works very difficult, because there are not enough definitive answers to explain it beyond the psychological, emotional, and physiological responses that are seen. We know there is a reaction, we just can’t completely explain why.

The History of Color Psychology

history booksColor psychology came about through the work of several different people. Naturally, they differed on the opinions of color and how it was perceived, but there were enough similarities in the end to make it valuable to people who study color today. Some colors have basically kept their same association throughout the years. White, for example, has been used for weddings throughout many areas of the world for a very long time. In symbolizes purity and virginity, but sometimes also death. In China and Japan the color also used to be seen at funerals, where black is the traditional funeral color in the Western world. Red is seen as a warning in the United States, but also the color of love. A cultural difference or misconception could easily arise from this dual meaning.

Color psychology has sometimes been mistaken for phototherapy, but they are not the same. Phototherapy is the use of light to help a medical condition, such as jaundice. Color psychology is more closely related to color semantics in the sense that it is closely involved with how a person perceives color and how it makes that person feel. The symbolism of color comes partially from study but also partially from folklore. There are some trends that have been lost to history and the only thing that a person today would have to go on are the tales that have been told of colors used for ceremonies and what they meant. A lot can be learned from this, but not as much as having actual evidence that can be touched and examined.

Unfortunately, some of the history of color psychology is clouded with misconceptions that the people of the day didn’t have any way of determining were incorrect. One of these is the idea that some animals become enraged at certain colors. We now know that animals don’t see color the same way that we do, and most of them see things in shades of grey and limited color options, so the color that we see when we look at something is not the color that they see when they look at the same object. Most of these discussions and the information that they were based on in the past also involved people who ‘went crazy’ when they saw certain colors because they had such a strong reaction to them. These are only speculation and these kinds have things have not been confirmed.



Like many of the websites I build, Cymbolism is a tool that I wish already existed.

The theory that associates colors with moods and emotions has existed for a very long time. Whilst many studies have been conducted over the years to study the relationship, they only serve to provide a window into a powerful tool for any designer.

Cymbolism hopes to break open that window and provide valuable information for designers when creating their next project. Just how a color is perceived changes over time, and Cymbolism will keep track of those changes, making sure designers keep in tune with their targets.

We’re putting the finishing touches to the website, building up the word database, but we’d love to hear any thoughts you may have.

This blog will serve a dual purpose: informing visitors as to the latest and future developments on Cymbolism; and providing news and information on the theory of Color Symbolism, and Psychology.