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Color and psychological functioning: a review of theoretical and empirical work

In the past decade there has been increased interest in research on color and psychological functioning. Important advances have been made in theoretical work and empirical work, but there are also important weaknesses in both areas that must be addressed for the literature to continue to develop apace. In this article, I provide brief theoretical and empirical reviews of research in this area, in each instance beginning with a historical background and recent advancements, and proceeding to an evaluation focused on weaknesses that provide guidelines for future research.

I conclude by reiterating that the literature on color and psychological functioning is at a nascent stage of development, and by recommending patience and prudence regarding conclusions about theory, findings, and real-world application. The past decade has seen enhanced interest in research in the area of color and psychological functioning. Progress has been made on both theoretical and empirical fronts, but there are also weaknesses on both of these fronts that must be attended to for this research area to continue to make progress.

In the following, I briefly review both advances and weaknesses in the literature on color and psychological functioning. Color has fascinated scholars for millennia Sloane, ; Gage, Theorizing on color and psychological functioning has been present since Goethe penned his Theory of Colors , in which he linked color categories e. Other conceptual statements about color and psychological functioning have focused on general associations that people have to colors and their corresponding influence on downstream affect, cognition, and behavior e.

Finally, much writing on color and psychological functioning has been completely atheoretical, focused exclusively on finding answers to applied questions e. The aforementioned theories and conceptual statements continue to motivate research on color and psychological functioning.

However, several other promising theoretical frameworks have also emerged in the past decade, and I review these frameworks in the following. Hill and Barton noted that in many non-human animals, including primate species, dominance in aggressive encounters i.

Artificial red e. In humans in aggressive encounters, a testosterone surge produces visible reddening on the face and fear leads to pallor Drummond and Quay, ; Levenson, Hill and Barton posited that the parallel between humans and non-humans present at the physiological level may extend to artificial stimuli, such that wearing red in sport contests may convey dominance and lead to a competitive advantage. Other theorists have also utilized a comparative approach in positing links between skin coloration and the evaluation of conspecifics.

Changizi et al. Increased red can convey anger, embarrassment, or sexual arousal, whereas increased bluish or greenish tint can convey illness or poor physiological condition. Thus, visual sensitivity to these color modulations facilitates various forms of social interaction.

In similar fashion, Stephen et al. Redness from blood oxygenization and yellowness from carotenoids are both seen as facilitating positive judgments. Fink et al. Elliot and Maier have proposed color-in-context theory, which draws on social learning, as well as biology.

Some responses to color stimuli are presumed to be solely due to the repeated pairing of color and particular concepts, messages, and experiences. Others, however, are presumed to represent a biologically engrained predisposition that is reinforced and shaped by social learning.

Through this social learning, color associations can be extended beyond natural bodily processes e. Thus, for example, red may not only increase attractiveness evaluations when viewed on the face, but also when viewed on a shirt or dress. As implied by the name of the theory, the physical and psychological context in which color is perceived is thought to influence its meaning and, accordingly, responses to it.

Meier and Robinson and Meier in press have posited a conceptual metaphor theory of color. From this perspective, people talk and think about abstract concepts in concrete terms grounded in perceptual experience i. These metaphoric associations are presumed to have implications for important outcomes such as morality judgments e.

For many years it has been known that light directly influences physiology and increases arousal see Cajochen, , for a review , but recently theorists have posited that such effects are wavelength dependent. Blue light, in particular, is posited to activate the melanopsin photoreceptor system which, in turn, activates the brain structures involved in sub-cortical arousal and higher-order attentional processing Cajochen et al.

As such, exposure to blue light is expected to facilitate alertness and enhance performance on tasks requiring sustained attention. Drawing on recent theorizing in evolutionary psychology, emotion science, retinal physiology, person perception, and social cognition, the aforementioned conceptualizations represent important advances to the literature on color and psychological functioning.

Nevertheless, theory in this area remains at a nascent level of development, and the following weaknesses may be identified. First, the focus of theoretical work in this area is either extremely specific or extremely general. A precise conceptual proposition such as red signals dominance and leads to competitive advantage in sports Hill and Barton, is valuable in that it can be directly translated into a clear, testable hypothesis; however, it is not clear how this specific hypothesis connects to a broader understanding of color—performance relations in achievement settings more generally.

On the other end of the spectrum, a general conceptualization such as color-in-context theory Elliot and Maier, is valuable in that it offers several widely applicable premises; however, these premises are only vaguely suggestive of precise hypotheses in specific contexts.

What is needed are mid-level theoretical frameworks that comprehensively, yet precisely explain and predict links between color and psychological functioning in specific contexts for emerging developments, see Pazda and Greitemeyer, in press ; Spence, in press ; Stephen and Perrett, in press.

Second, the extant theoretical work is limited in scope in terms of range of hues, range of color properties, and direction of influence. Most theorizing has focused on one hue, red, which is understandable given its prominence in nature, on the body, and in society Changizi, ; Elliot and Maier, ; however, other hues also carry important associations that undoubtedly have downstream effects e. Color has three basic properties: hue, lightness, and chroma Fairchild, Variation in any or all of these properties could influence downstream affect, cognition, or behavior, yet only hue is considered in most theorizing most likely because experientially, it is the most salient color property.

Lightness and chroma also undoubtedly have implications for psychological functioning e. Finally, most theorizing has focused on color as an independent variable rather than a dependent variable; however, it is also likely that many situational and intrapersonal factors influence color perception e. Third, theorizing to date has focused primarily on main effects, with only a modicum of attention allocated to the important issue of moderation.

Nevertheless, this step is invaluable in that it adds conceptual precision and clarity, and begins to address the issue of real-world applicability.

All color effects undoubtedly depend on certain conditions — culture, gender, age, type of task, variant of color, etc.

Another, more succinct, way to state this third weakness is that theorizing in this area needs to take context, in all its forms, more seriously. One problem has been a failure to attend to rudimentary scientific procedures such as experimenter blindness to condition, identifying, and excluding color deficient participants, and standardizing the duration of color presentation or exposure.

Another problem has been a failure to specify and control for color at the spectral level in manipulations. Without such specification, it is impossible to know what precise combination of color properties was investigated, and without such control, the confounding of focal and non-focal color properties is inevitable Whitfield and Wiltshire, ; Valdez and Mehrabian, Yet another problem has been the use of underpowered samples. This problem, shared across scientific disciplines Maxwell, , can lead to Type I errors, Type II errors, and inflated effect sizes Fraley and Vazire, ; Murayama et al.

Together, these methodological problems have greatly hampered progress in this area. This, coupled with advances in theory development, has led to a surge in empirical activity.

In the following, I review the diverse areas in which color work has been conducted in the past decade, and the findings that have emerged. Space considerations require me to constrain this review to a brief mention of central findings within each area. I focus on findings with humans for reviews of research with non-human animals, see Higham and Winters, in press ; Setchell, in press that have been obtained in multiple at least five independent labs.

In research on color and selective attention, red stimuli have been shown to receive an attentional advantage see Folk, in press , for a review. Research on color and alertness has shown that blue light increases subjective alertness and performance on attention-based tasks see Chellappa et al.

Studies on color and athletic performance have linked wearing red to better performance and perceived performance in sport competitions and tasks see Maier et al. In research on color and intellectual performance, viewing red prior to a challenging cognitive task has been shown to undermine performance see Shi et al.

Empirical work on color and avoidance motivation has linked viewing red in achievement contexts to increased caution and avoidance see Elliot and Maier, , for a review.

In research on color and attraction, viewing red on or near a female has been shown to enhance attraction in heterosexual males see Pazda and Greitemeyer, in press , for a review. The aforementioned findings represent important contributions to the literature on color and psychological functioning, and highlight the multidisciplinary nature of research in this area. Nevertheless, much like the extant theoretical work, the extant empirical work remains at a nascent level of development, due, in part, to the following weaknesses.

First, although in some research in this area color properties are controlled for at the spectral level, in most research it still is not. Color control is typically done improperly at the device rather than the spectral level, is impossible to implement e.

Color control is admittedly difficult, as it requires technical equipment for color assessment and presentation, as well as the expertise to use it. Nevertheless, careful color control is essential if systematic scientific work is to be conducted in this area. Findings from uncontrolled research can be informative in initial explorations of color hypotheses, but such work is inherently fraught with interpretational ambiguity Whitfield and Wiltshire, ; Elliot and Maier, that must be subsequently addressed.

In basic color science research e. These factors have been largely ignored and allowed to vary in research on color and psychological functioning, with unknown consequences. An important next step for research in this area is to move to incorporate these more rigorous standardization procedures widely utilized by basic color scientists. With regard to both this and the aforementioned weakness, it should be acknowledged that exact and complete control is not actually possible in color research, given the multitude of factors that influence color perception Committee on Colorimetry of the Optical Society of America, and our current level of knowledge about and ability to control them Fairchild, As such, the standard that must be embraced and used as a guideline in this work is to control color properties and viewing conditions to the extent possible given current technology, and to keep up with advances in the field that will increasingly afford more precise and efficient color management.

Third, although in some research in this area, large, fully powered samples are used, much of the research remains underpowered. This is a problem in general, but it is particularly a problem when the initial demonstration of an effect is underpowered e.

Underpowered samples commonly produce overestimated effect size estimates Ioannidis, , and basing subsequent sample sizes on such estimates simply perpetuates the problem. Small sample sizes can also lead researchers to prematurely conclude that a hypothesis is disconfirmed, overlooking a potentially important advance Murayama et al.

Findings from small sampled studies should be considered preliminary; running large sampled studies with carefully controlled color stimuli is essential if a robust scientific literature is to be developed. In both reviewing advances in and identifying weaknesses of the literature on color and psychological functioning, it is important to bear in mind that the existing theoretical and empirical work is at an early stage of development. It is premature to offer any bold theoretical statements, definitive empirical pronouncements, or impassioned calls for application; rather, it is best to be patient and to humbly acknowledge that color psychology is a uniquely complex area of inquiry Kuehni, ; Fairchild, that is only beginning to come into its own.

Findings from color research can be provocative and media friendly, and the public and the field as well can be tempted to reach conclusions before the science is fully in place.

There is considerable promise in research on color and psychological functioning, but considerably more theoretical and empirical work needs to be done before the full extent of this promise can be discerned and, hopefully, fulfilled. The author declares that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Journal List Front Psychol v. Front Psychol. Published online Apr 2. Andrew J. Author information Article notes Copyright and License information Disclaimer. This article was submitted to Personality and Social Psychology, a section of the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

Received Nov 25; Accepted Mar The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author s or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice.

Color psychology

Color psychology is the study of hues as a determinant of human behavior. Color influences perceptions that are not obvious, such as the taste of food. Colors have qualities that can cause certain emotions in people. For instance, heterosexual men tend to report that red outfits enhance female attractiveness, while heterosexual females deny any outfit color impacting that of men. Color psychology is also widely used in marketing and branding.

In the past decade there has been increased interest in research on color and psychological functioning. Important advances have been made in theoretical work and empirical work, but there are also important weaknesses in both areas that must be addressed for the literature to continue to develop apace. In this article, I provide brief theoretical and empirical reviews of research in this area, in each instance beginning with a historical background and recent advancements, and proceeding to an evaluation focused on weaknesses that provide guidelines for future research. I conclude by reiterating that the literature on color and psychological functioning is at a nascent stage of development, and by recommending patience and prudence regarding conclusions about theory, findings, and real-world application. The past decade has seen enhanced interest in research in the area of color and psychological functioning. Progress has been made on both theoretical and empirical fronts, but there are also weaknesses on both of these fronts that must be attended to for this research area to continue to make progress. In the following, I briefly review both advances and weaknesses in the literature on color and psychological functioning.

Later version available View entry history. Emotional color effects ; Perceptual color effects. Psychological color effects are the outcome of color sensations as determined by human perception and emotion, including color influences on feelings, thinking, and behavior. The effect of color on warmth perception is related with feeling warm, which could be a physical or sensorial effect. In this case, some colors may increase or decrease the feeling of warmth, although the actual physical temperature remains the same. Skip to main content Skip to table of contents. This service is more advanced with JavaScript available.

Color psychology

Colors affect the bodily functions, mind and emotions with the energy produced by light. Studies conducted clearly demonstrate the benefits of colors where the development of the brain, creativity, productivity and learning are concerned. The effects of color on human beings can be varied; causing excitement, lending calm, giving inspiration, raising anxiety or tension or giving peace are some of these effects.

Colors and emotions are closely linked. Warm colors can evoke different emotions than cool colors and bright colors can create different feelings than muted colors. It all depends on how the psychological effects of color are being used.

Effects of color on emotions.

Colors and emotions: how colors make you feel

The color produced by light is a kind of an energy. This energy affects both the functions of our body as well as our mind and emotions. Although the eye is the organ of sight, studies conducted suggest that in reality the brain perceives the image. The image is observed and transmitted to the related part of the brain by millions of nerve endings in the retina of the eye, leading to the perception of the image. Thanks to studies conducted with the use of advanced technology, we now know that color affects brain waves, the autonomic nervous system and hormonal activity and stimulates various emotions.

Shuai Chang, David E. Lewis, Joel Pearson; The functional effects of color perception and color imagery. Journal of Vision ;13 10 Previous research into color imagery has focused on compound images consisting of both color and form, e. Little is known regarding the characteristics of pure color imagery—color without form structure. Binocular rivalry has proven to be a successful method for assessing mental imagery indirectly, quantitatively, and reliably. Here, we utilized this technique to access pure color imagery.


PDF | This research aims to discover the psychological effects of colors on individuals, using the students' union complex in a university.


Color and psychological functioning: a review of theoretical and empirical work

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