We tend to choose colourful garments for our Re-Nou selection. We don’t think about it, we just reach for what pleases the eye. But it is the very colour that grabs our attention in the first place. Its power is undeniable. Colour influences your mood, your actions and thoughts. The reaction a colour provokes in you is based on all the experiences you made throughout life. A certain colour would calm your nerves, motivate you to take action or even to evoke soothing energy when needed. Wassily Kandinsky saw in colour the power to “provoke() a psychic vibration. Color hides a power still unknown but real, which acts on every part of the human body.”
It goes back to Aristotle when humans tried to grasp the ability of colour and explain it. Aristotle’s theory was that God sent it through divine light rays from heaven. All colours derive from black and white and refer to the four elements: water, air, earth and fire. His conclusions were accepted for over 2000 years until Isaac Newton has published his findings. Newton has developed a reflecting telescope and with it a colour theory that pure white light which falls through the prism refracts in all visible colours.
Later it was Goethe who wanted to challenge Newton’s findings with his catalogue Theory of Colours. He argued that the colour white is not a composition of other colours as said by Newton, but that colours emerge through interaction of light and dark. He has recognised that colour is perceived in a wide variety of circumstances, and so later it was considered that “what Goethe was really seeking was not a physiological but a psychological theory of colours”(, Wittgenstein).
With his colour wheel he was the first one to include aesthetic qualities of colours, establishing a kind of colour psychology. He associated red with the "beautiful", orange with the "noble", yellow to the "good", green to the "useful", blue to the "common", and violet to the "unnecessary".
But it was the chemist M.E. Chevreul who came up with comprehensive theories on colour psychology, perception and harmony of colour, and with it he has influenced the whole of modern art.
These are widespread theories that are widely used today in the field of marketing and design.
Thus we have 4 psychological colours: red, blue, yellow and green. They each refer to the body, the mind, the emotions and the balance between the three.
These are the psychological properties of the 6 of the basic colours:
Red is physical
Red is a strong colour. It has the characteristic to seem closer than it physically is, and therefore it grasps out attention. This is the reason why it is used for traffic lights everywhere in the world. Red has a physical effect, it has the ability to raise your pulse. It gives us the impression that time runs quicker than it actually does. Red can activate the instinct of fight or flight. It is a simple colour with no subtlety. It is lively and friendly, but at the same time it can be perceived as aggressive and demanding.
Blue is intellectual
Blue is the colour of the mind and has a calming effect. Blue affects us mentally as opposed to Red’s physical reaction. Strong blue tones prompt clear ideas and lighter blue relaxes the mind and helps concentrate. Blue is the colour of clear communication.
Yellow is emotional
The colour yellow has an emotional stimulus, and therefore considered as psychologically strongest colour. The right shade of yellow will elevate our mood and self-confidence. It is the colour of optimism and trust. However, the wrong tone of yellow can have the opposite effect of diminishing our self-esteem and evoke restlessness.
Green is balance
Green is the easiest colour to process by the brain. It is the colour of balance. If our surroundings show a lot of green spaces, it signals that there is enough water around, no danger of food scarcity and misery. Subconsciously we feel calm and positive.
Black is a result of all colours absorbed. Black has a considerable psychological effect. It creates barriers, as it absorbs all the energy that is directed at you, and cocoons your personality. Black means the lack of light, and can mean danger as many people are afraid of the dark. As opposed to that black’s positive characteristic is that it is completely clear. It shows uncompromised excellence and sophistication. Black creates a perception of weight and graveness.
By the way the fact that black makes one look slimmer is a myth. The truth is that black helps not to attract attention instead of giving a visual slimming effect.
In the same way that black is complete absorption, white is a total reflection. White creates barriers differently to the way black does. White communicates sterility and screams: don’t touch me. It is purity and cleanliness. But sterility can have a negative effect as well as positive. Optically white gives more space. But white also makes other colours stand out, sometimes in a visually disturbing way.
The effects of the colours and their meaning are based on two ideas: they are either biologically innate or have been learned. When a person perceives colour, he or she automatically evaluates it. Through this evaluation a “colour-motivated” behaviour is triggered. But the way a colour is perceived also has to do with the context of the situation and the culturally learned behaviours.
We have always seen ourselves as very visual people, who are being affected by what we see a lot in our daily lives. Now having looked behind the theories on colours it all makes much more sense. We see and perceive colours every minute of our lives and they automatically have an impact, just because they exist and it seems it’s their job! Understanding that might even help to consciously construct what we see every day at home or at work, to make us feel better. Colours are not merely an aesthetic thing, it’s a component of daily life that has a huge effect and knowing what it does to us can help us improve our wellbeing.