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Colour psychology is the study of effects that colours have on our behaviours and choices. Commonly used in marketing, most brands focus on the colours they want attached to their product based on its utility and target audience. For example, brands whose target audience are women tend to go for colours that have hues of femininity such as shades of red and pink, while brands that hope to appeal to children lean towards bright attention grabbing colours. Although the history of colours with marketing is pretty straightforward and universally acceptable, much is yet to be explored about colours and their roles in our lives.


The study of colours in psychology hasn’t been done formally for a long time but the study of how colours affect our lives has been a topic of discussion long before psychology developed as a science. Aristotle first came up with a theory that was somewhat related to the modern theory of perceiving colours. He related them to the four elements – earth, water, fire and air, describing how fire had the colour red and yellow in it while air stood for the colour white. In 1810, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe published a book called Theory of Colours (German: Zur Farbenlehre) about his views on the nature of colours and how these are perceived by humans. It was published in English in 1840. Goethe’s work was the first of its kind to start considering the physiological aspect of colours.

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While it is not something we need for survival, colours play a vital role in our daily lives. Some researchers believe that their importance is based in our primitive instincts, the ones we needed to survive in the wild but which we have now adapted to more sophisticated uses. Colours influence our opinions about objects and in some cases, people, even before we think about it. An object’s colour may very well be one of the first things we notice about it before it’s shape or size. We are very easily swayed when choosing which brands to shop with, just by their brand colours. Even blind or colour blind people are sensitive to colour psychology. Nature has very diverse examples of how colours have meanings, with plants and animals taking on bright colours like red to discourage predators or to make sure other animals know that they’re dangerous.


Colour psychology is usually confused with colour symbolism. Colour symbolism is that which happens due to cultures, religions or geographical biases and makes us attach different meanings to different colours, while colour psychology is more focussed on unconscious colour preferences which show a person’s personality. These two may not be the same thing but they are extremely interrelated. A few examples of colour symbolism are how the western world views white as a colour symbolising purity and is used at weddings, in India and some other countries, white is the colour to be worn at funerals because it symbolises sorrow. A lot of times the symbolism may contradict itself for certain people in certain areas. For example, green which is seen as the colour representing jealousy in America due to the influence of Shakespeare, who first used the term ‘green-eyed monster‘, also represents wealth and social status because of the green dollars. Both the interpretations are familiar to Americans, but the meaning they choose to primarily attach to the colour green is based entirely on them and their personal experiences. This difficulty of differentiating between colour psychology and colour symbolism, and the diverseness of colour symbolism may be the biggest discouragement to more research on these topics.

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A study in 2010 found that the world’s favourite colour is blue, this was based on averages which made people question the absoluteness of the result because different colours mean different things everywhere in the world. But the researchers believed how you feel about a colour depends on how you feel about objects of that colour. Since blue is associated with water and the sky, things that are not restricted to any one part of the world, that’s the colour everybody loves. But this research is just one example of how tough it is to carry out any sort of research related to colour psychology because how a person feels about a colour could be affected even by a single event from their childhood. Other limitations which researchers face when studying colour psychology are the shades and tones in colours. There are eleven basic colours recognised by everyone but even a slight shift in tone or shade may result in a completely new colour. It isn’t sure how much this would affect people feeling about a particular colour but it is known that they respond differently to warm toned colours and cool toned colours, and that the same colour can exist in both warm and cool toned forms.


A significant amount of research that has taken place till now is focused on colour preferences of a group or of an individual and how they reveal their personalities. The results are seen mostly in personality quizzes that you may find online which determine the type of person you are based on which colours you prefer or what meanings you associate with them. An important part of colour preference which is usually forgotten is that when other people associate a particular colour with a person. Different people see different aspects of our personality and this affects how they think of us in general. At the same time, people sharing the same culture tend to relate the same meaning to a colour. Thus, what colour a person attaches to our personality may tell us a lot about how they perceive us if we have a general idea of what that colour symbolises for them. This, again, has a lot of hurdles such as the fact that sometimes people don’t consciously know what meaning they have attached to a particular colour, so there is no exact way of knowing it. Even if culture and religion are taken into account, personal biases may also exist. In addition, some associations that people make with another person are made unconsciously simply because they see that person wearing that colour a lot or talking about it a lot, and have nothing to do with their personality. Since colour psychology is backed by such little research, it has a lot of disbelievers and appropriately so. Most of what is known about it is not usually backed by facts and is extremely vague. Yet, it has stayed a topic of interest because of its obvious results and conclusions that seem sensible even if there is little research to back them. This only proves that colour psychology is a potentially vast field of research waiting its turn.

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Sulmaaz Siddiqui is a student pursuing Psychology from Jamia Millia Islamia.

Edited by: Samra Ejaz

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.

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Written by Sulmaaz Siddiqui

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