INTRODUCTION The perception of color is not a separate individual field of study, rather it is a vast complicated area touching upon almost all fields. It comes into contact with such fields as sociology, music, physics, and painting (Sharpe, 1974). Much of the early work itself was done by philosophers and artists. It was only at the end of the nineteenth century “that important work began in both affective reactions to color and the realm of color aesthetics.”There is remarkably consistent supportive literature that surrounds the relationship between color and emotion. The literature is full of statements that relate color with emotional states or mood-tones. Studies have reported the association of color and moods by using various methods such as objective impressions, clinical observations, introspective, and experimental investigations (Wexner, 1954). In many cases individual reactions to colors vary, but the average reactions of groups of people is justification enough to reach a conclusion (Birren, 1978). Typically, associations with colors, green with nature for example, lead to these stereotypical attitudes towards colors. Although these associations are strong any specific claim for specific colors should be avoided, just like many stereotypes. Specific colors do usually elicit particular images and emotions, but the particular image or emotions invoked are in no way, shape, or form the same for each individual. Whether or not a color-related emotion is positive or negative depends on the personal experience with that color (Boyatzis & Varghese 1993). In their study conducted on children’s emotional associations with colors, one girl, contrary to the typical associations with the color yellow, said that it made her feel sad. Her reasoning for this was that her mother had told her that she didn’t look good in yellow. Buckalew and Bell (1985) in a study conducted on children, proposed that as children we might learn to attach these emotional meanings to colors. The children were presented with 14 figures in a random order. There were seven figures of each sex, and each figure within sex had clothing colored yellow, blue, red, green, brown, black, or white with crayons to maximize hue saturation. The children were then asked to draw faces on the figures with a pencil. The mood appraisal was based upon ratings of the mouth drawings with an upward curve defined as “happy”, a downward curve as “sad”, and a relatively straight line as “indifferent.” Two judges conferred upon the evaluations of the mouth drawing angles. Interestingly, they found that mood responses were collectively evaluated as “happy” mouth drawings; each color produced an overwhelmingly positive affect. The Eibl-Eibesfeldt (as cited in Buckalew & Bell, 1985) position of a relatively innate and culturally universal basis for ‘happy’ and ‘sad’ affective expressions states that there might be a predisposition in children towards positive affects which come to be modified through experience. This suggests that young children might not make differential associations between colors and affect. These findings were limited due to the small number of children tested. It has been found in past research that the associations of some mood tones with particular colors are more apparent and precise than others (Wexner, 1954). Multiple studies have shown that red is often more associated with exciting, stimulating; blue with secure, tender, calm, comforting; orange with distressed, upset; yellow with cheerful, jovial; and black with powerful, strong. The two most commonly preferred colors being red and blue (Birren, 1978). Many of these color research studies have been conducted using specific adjectives for mood tones and then the participants matching the adjectives they associate with the color in various manners. Three elements that need to be taken into consideration when evaluating the mood-tones that go with certain colors are the hue, brightness, and saturation of the color being perceived. Modern color theoreticians have recognized the importance of these characteristics, but much of the early work done with colors failed to incorporate these aspects due to the lack of consistent, reliable dyes (Sharpe, 1974). Different shades or hues can bring to mind different emotions. For instance, in one study conducted by Lois Wexner in a discussion with a group of the participants after the main study found that that particular shade of purple was not deep or dark enough to be representative of a “powerful” purple (1954). So you need to be aware that mood tones that relate to one color don’t always generalize to lighter shades of that same color.In general it is completely normal for humans to like any and all colors (Birren, 1978). At the same time “outright denial, skepticism, and rejection of emotional content in color probably indicates a disturbed, frustrated, or unhappy mortal.” A flighty soul, or person who goes from one thing to another and has poor direction and self-poise possibly experiences undue exuberance over color. All colors contain psychologically therapeutic aspects.Color preferences may change throughout the course of your life. Admitting to these changes, may signal that the person has experienced personal growth and change. This is more likely to occur among introverts rather than extroverts (Birren, 1978).In most color studies no significant sex differences have been found. In contrast, Boyartzis and Varghese (1993) have found in one of their studies that girls are especially more positive towards brighter colors and negative towards dark colors. Boys were much more likely to have a positive emotional reaction towards dark colors. All groups expressed a higher positive reaction for bright colors and more negative feelings for darker colors.There are also physiological reactions to colors. Muscular tension and muscular relaxation, or tonus reflex, changes in response to different colors (Birren, 1978). Red increases muscular tension from normal 23 units to 42, yellow to 30, and blue to 24. Overall warm hues, such as reds and oranges are stimulating, while the cool colors, blue and green are relaxing. This could also account for the moods associated with these colors. Red is often associated with the mood exciting, a stimulant, yellow with cheerful a neutral response, and blue as calm, a relaxant.Color also brings about a reflex action upon the vascular system if not only through the emotions associated with the colors (Birren, 1978). These emotional excitements, which are recognized through changes in blood pressure, pulse-frequency and rhythm, are brought forth through associations made with the colors presented.Overall, it seems as though colors have certain associations with emotion. However, a person’s life experiences and personality influence how certain colors effect them emotionally and can alter these conclusions about color associations.The purpose of this study is to determine if different colors do invoke different moods, whether or not the primary colors are related to the moods they are associated with, and whether lighter shades of the primary colors invoke stronger or weaker mood associations.
Sixty students from a general psychology class at Missouri Western State College in Saint Joseph, Missouri participated in this study. Two students were colorblind and were not included.
Four pieces of standard white computer paper were given to each participant. The first page had the directions and other demographics. The other demographics were the participants’ age, gender, and whether or not they are colorblind. The last three pages each had two colors on it. The colors used were red, yellow, blue, and a lighter shade of each. Next to each color were the words exciting, calm, and cheerful. Each word had a continuum from one to ten next to it.
Each subject was given the survey. The papers with the colors on them were mixed up to counterbalance for order effects. The subjects were asked to circle a number on the continuum next to each adjective representing a mood tone. On the continuum, ten represented the highest feeling of that particular emotion, and one represented that that color did not invoke that particular mood. If the particular color invoked strong feelings of calmness, then the subject circled a number close to 10. For example, if the subject felt the color did not invoke a strong feeling of excitement, then they circled a number close to one. When the subjects were done, the survey was collected.
RESULTS Three 3 x 2 repeated measures ANOVAs were calculated to see if there was a significant relationship between a color and its lighter counterpart and also between the colors red, yellow, and blue on emotion. The results for all three emotions are in the graphs. The left bar is the primary color, and the right bar is the lighter shade. For the emotion cheerful, our 3 x 2 ANOVA found significant main effects and a significant interaction. The main effect for whether or not it was a primary color was significant (F(1, 57)=23.66, p<.001). Primary colors were seen as more cheerful than non primary colors. The main effect for color was significant (F(2, 114)=30.20, p<.001). The color yellow was seen as more cheerful than the colors red or blue. The interaction was also significant (F(2, 114)=10.37, p<.001). The overall effect for cheerful is that yellow exhibited that emotion the most, and the primary colors were seen as more cheerful except for blue where there was no difference.For the emotion exciting, our 3 x 2 ANOVA found significant main effects and a significant interaction. The main effect for whether or not it was a primary color was significant (F(1, 57)=94.35, p<.001). Primary colors were seen as more exciting than non primary colors. The main effect for color was significant (F(2, 114)=23.08, p<.001). The color yellow was seen as more cheerful than the colors red and blue. The interaction was also significant (F(2, 114)=15.20, p<.001). The overall effect for exciting is that yellow exhibited that emotion the most, and the primary colors were seen as more exciting than the non primary colors.For the emotion calm, our 3 x 2 ANOVA found significant main effects and a significant interaction. The main effect for whether or not it was a primary color was significant (F(1, 57)=34.07, p<.001). Non primary colors were seen as more calming than primary colors. The main effect for color was significant (F(2, 114)=29.82, p<.001). The color blue was seen as more calming than the colors red and yellow. The interaction was also significant (F(2, 114)=7.03, p=.001). The overall effect for calm is that blue exhibited that emotion the most, and the non primary colors were seen as more calming than the primary colors. However, the lighter red had about the same calming effect as the blue colors.
DISCUSSION In general, the results of this study support that different colors do invoke different moods. Some mood tones for certain colors are more pronounced than others. Yellow was found to be both cheerful and exciting while blue was associated with being calm. The primary colors were typically related to the moods they are associated with, although yellow was more associated with exciting than red. This could in part be due to a different hue of yellow used than in past studies. The lighter shades of the primary colors did invoke stronger or weaker mood association depending on the mood. The lighter shades produced weaker association with exciting and cheerful, and a stronger association for calm. The limitations of this study such as the specific hues used and printer problems in reproducing the exact shades could have had a dramatic impact on this study. Each hue could possibly create its own mood association. Since there appears to be fairly consistent agreement among participants in this study this could point to a cultural or biological factor. Exposure to the same experiences culturally could lead to these associations. Cimbalo, Beck, and Sendziak states that the fact that young children respond as older subjects can be used to argue for the innate association of colors and emotions (1978). A possible challenge for future research would be to examine the role of biology and culture in color and mood associations. Also, different hues could be used as it seems likely that different results might be obtained if different shades of the same colors were used.
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