Colors and Emotions - Part 1

by Alex Cosper on July 12, 2019

 The link between colors and emotions taps into deep psychology that is still not completely understood by researchers. While it's clear that color can be perceived and felt in multiple ways, packaging designers can use known studies of the past century and earlier to gain insight in how colors play a compelling role in attracting consumers in retail stores and affecting purchasing decisions. 

Why Colors Have Impact in Culture

Colors matter because they trigger emotional responses in humans, not just in malls and shopping centers, but it everyday life. Everyone has experiences and memories going back to early childhood of how colors have made them feel a certain way. Simply by growing up in a certain environment, individuals make associations with colors. Every nation has flag colors that become attached to its global image and narrative, just as every region has some type of colorful scenery that defines it, whether it includes oceans, rivers, mountains, forests or deserts.

Kids learn to make color associations at a young age. If they grow up in snowy climates, white will naturally associate with freeing winter snow. In a more tropical environment or city full of parks green will be associated with earthiness and relaxation. Blue associates with skies and waterfronts while the orange and brown color schemes fit well with products calling for a western desert appearance. These are general associations and not necessarily how everyone in a given market thinks, but provide clear examples how a local market becomes associated with certain colors. 

Every sports team on the planet has specific colors that inspire fans to wear those same colors at the games, which conveys a sense of team spirit between the fans and the team. As most consumers eventually notice, every big company or brand has color in its logo that creates product awareness and experience associations. These colors become part of the packaging identity of products and help paint memorable pictures in people's minds. 

How Colors Affect Emotions and Behavior

Exploring deeper into the pathways of psychology that lead to lucrative marketing secrets is a worthwhile endeavor when it comes to color analysis. While it's fairly common knowledge among packaging designers that colors can spark interest in retail displays from a distance, there are still ways to gain competitive edges in studying the associations consumers make between colors and emotions and how they affect purchasing behavior. 

In 1994 the American Psychological Association's Journal of Experimental Psychology published an article called "Effects of Colors on Emotions" by Patricia Valdez and Albert Mehrabian. The writers sought to investigate how colors affect not just emotions and behavior, but reactions as functions of personality and psychopathology and to color concepts. They examined how color hue, saturation and brightness all trigger emotional responses. The writers used the Pleasure-Arousal-Dominance emotion model for evaluating interest levels connected with colors. 

The results showed that saturation and brightness have a strong impact on emotions. They also found that colors perceived as "pleasant" include blue, green, purple and hybrids of blue-green, red-purple and purple-blue. Hues considered the least pleasant in studies were yellow and green-yellow. Yet green-yellow, blue-green and green were found to be the most arousing among subjects. The least arousing color combinations were purple-blue and yellow-red.

The researchers reviewed earlier studies with the focus on color stimuli. They found that not much was known about colors in the 1980s and that studies on it were generally vague. But they found enough compelling evidence to suggest that galvanic skin response (GSR) studies of the 1950s revealed that red and yellow are usually more arousing colors than blue or green. Other evidence suggested that blue was associated with  feelings of security and comfort. They also noted high anxiety scores were linked with red and yellow. A possible explanation for this response they didn't mention was that the 1950s was the era in which road signs were standardized so that yellow meant caution and red meant stop or danger. 

Science of Colors

Sometimes the word "science" is thought of as separate from emotions until researchers actually study the science of emotions. As much as people think of colors as art and emotions as human qualities that can't be measured, it's still possible to apply scientific measurements to art, colors and emotions. These values can then be used for objective analysis by marketers and artists. Colors can be measured in wavelengths, brightness can be rated by black-to-white composition and saturation can be broken down into purity or vividness, which graphic artists measure in pixels or dots per inch. 

Using these tools researchers have found that behaviors are affected by the colors of ballot boxes and clothing of models in photos. Graphic artists who design product packaging can use this information to inspire new ideas that capture the attention of consumers in stores. 

Read the second part of the series on colors and emotions.



[1] "Relationship between color and emotion : a study of college students (2004)" ,by Naz Kaya.

[2] "Analysis_of_cross-cultural color emotion (2007)" , by Xiao-Ping Gao , John H Xin, Tetsuya Sato and Aran Hansuebsai.  

[3] "Effects of Color on Emotions (1994)" , by Patricia Valdez and Albert Mehrabian. 

Topics: Metal Packaging, Colors & Emotions, Design & Emotions

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