The Meaning of Colors

Color Psychology: Do you think colors affect emotions, appetites, or energy levels? Plenty of people seem to think so, as evident from all the advice out there on what wall color will best induce relaxation in your bedroom, what color can stimulate learning in schools, and even what color might reduce aggression among prisoners. Although psychologists have been researching color since the early 20th century, findings have been mixed, for the most part. Different cultures have different interpretations of color. This means, for example, that research findings on differences in gender responses to color may only apply to individuals who share the same cultural background as the research participants. In spite of the fact that color research is often viewed with skepticism by traditional psychologists, it remains an interesting topic to consider.

Cultures and Color: Ancient Egyptian and Chinese peoples believed strongly in the healing power of color and light, a practice known as chromotherapy. Since color represents split light, and light contains energy, the premise behind chromotherapy is that colors and light can be used to restore balance in the energy fields of our bodies. Cultures do seem to share some common meanings of color. Green usually means nature, health, and harmony, while blue often stands for stability and intelligence. On the other hand, in Western cultures, the color symbolic of death and mourning is black; in Eastern cultures, it is white. Yellow symbolizes joy and light in many cultures; in others, it represents aging and decay.

Deaf People and Colors: While research has found visual perception differences between Deaf and hearing people, when it comes to color perception, there are more similarities than differences between the two groups. What do you think about colors? What color was your room when you were growing up and did it affect your mood? If you grew up in a dorm room, what color was it? Do you think it was painted that color on purpose (i.e., color psychology) or did your school just make use of a bulk donation of paint? In your opinion, is there any difference between Deaf and hearing people regarding colors?

As for which color being tested on jail walls, with mixed results, the recommendation from color “experts”: pink!

  1. Jules -oo- November 29, 2006

    That last sentence sure gave me a case of the giggles. Pink prison walls indeedy! Pink walls make me think of Pepto-Bismol that awful pink medicine my parents gave me when I had an upset stomach which wasn’t often! Yick!

    I have a strong love of colors, of all of them. My most favorite color, however is blue in all it’s different manifestations (coral, navy, ocean, sky, baby, torquoise, etc.) but as a wall color it doesn’t jibe for me.

    Instead I notice I’m partial to mixed colors such as orange-gold or brick-reds or golden-yellows. When the sun hits these colors the room glows with light and warmth even on the coldest snowiest days.

    I don’t know if there are differences in color appreciation between deaf and hearing folks, yet I do know there are few people, deaf and hearing, male and female, young and old with a color appreciation like mine. And that’s ok. I enjoy seeing how people use color in their lives.

    One thing I will say, though, is that I’ve noticed that many of us mention having a memory smell that can trigger a color memory and vice versa. For example, I recently moved to the Pacific Northwest and here there is a strong smell of pines amid all the emerald splendor here. When I first smelled the pines I was transported back in time to my childhood in Pennsylvania’s south-central region where the Pennsylvania Dutch peoples are numerous AND so are the emerald pine woodlands. For me pine trees are green and healthy and vice versa: green and healthy makes me think of tall pine trees! Yum!


  2. Jenn November 29, 2006

    I think colors have a certain universal value, although of course it does depend a bit on the physical ability to see colors.

    We have color vision (cones) for day vision, but even when we use our night vision and rely on rods, we do have rods that are sensitive to different colors. This is why colors by moonlight have a certain beautiful, spooky quality that is hard to paint. Everything looks a little more bluish or silvery-grey. It’s not so much the color of the light, but the fact our night vision lacks as much red-green color as our day vision.

    Color preferences depend both on physical experience and psychological needs. In art theory, blue is a cold color because it recedes from the vision– we’re psychologically used to faraway objects being more bluish or purple than nearby objects, and of course the sky is limitless and blue. So blue is best in background or to use as space.
    Blue also symbolizes water, depression and cold. So for a depressed or claustrophobic person, blue would not be the most healthy color to use on all of the walls.
    I did once see a bedroom painted all in blue and the person chose to paint the ceiling a darker blue, so the ceiling looked very low (ceilings should be white to appear to have increased height). It was pretty and peaceful, but a little like being inside a fish tank with a lid.

    In some cultures brown represents death too. Yet, brown is often a favorite color of men. It’s reddish without being pink, which for some reason men find a bad color, probably because so many girls and women like it. ;).

    To Jules I would say, many women like peach colors, which are the same colors he describe, mixed with pink to lighten them. They are very pretty and warm especially in sunlight.

    And that’s right– red and yellows are “warm colors”, they do not recede in the background. We are attuned to spot red and yellow things– they could be fruit or food ;). Red also signifies blood, which demands attention. So it can be very hard to ignore red colors and let them recede in the background. Strong yellows are very distracting– road signs use them, and also yellow can signify fire.

    Off-colors help dampen the “food or blood” message.

    I once saw a square kitchen painted brick red with lovely framed paintings in gold, and small rugs to match. It’s so pretty and right. I would definitely consider such a warm color in decorating in the future.

    I wonder if most deaf people prefer to use mixed, muted colors so the emotional impact is not as strong as with primary colors?

    Few people paint walls with pure, full-strength (unmixed with white, grey or black) red, yellow, orange, green, or blue… (some try purple), becuse those colors are so intense and strong they detract from everything else.

    If anybody uses a pure or very strong color as a wall color, what is it, and why do you like it? Where is it in your house?

    My personal favorite color is green, but i disliked the minty blue-green my mom used in my bedroom growing up. I however love forest green as an accent and have bedspreads and curtains in that color. I also don’t mind brown, but I have yet to find the right background color to use dark greens with.

    I am so sick of white walls that I can’t tell you. I was looking at somebody’s apt and saw they had painted their living room a light blue and it looked so good, and I normally won’t want to be in blue rooms for long.


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