What is color psychology?

Color psychology is the study of how colors affect your behavior, mood and impression on others.

Can the color you wear really affect your mood? Research says yes; color can absolutely affect your mood, behavior and stress levels.

Color specialist Leatrice Eiseman says how colors affect us correlates to that colors behavior in nature. Eiseman has asked thousands of people what they think of specific colors and has found many patterns.

Colors create the same impressions for different people.

For example, the color blue is almost always associated with blue skies, which when we are children is a positive thing — it means playing outside and fun. Evolutionarily it also means there are no storms to come and good sun for crops. This is why blue reminds us of stability and calm.

She cautions that there are no magic bullet answers, but there are generalities that can be gleaned from decades of research on the patterns of what people think about each color. Your personality can also change your opinions of colors.

So, how can you pick the perfect color for each situation? Based on the research, here is your personal color guide:

Research has shown that colors can greatly affect our moods and the way other people respond to us. Amazingly, colors can even change our heart rate, blood pressure and respiration, as researchers Keith Jacobs and Frank Hustmyer discovered in 1974.

With that in mind, here’s the ultimate color guide on what color to wear.

Science of People Color Guide, color psychology 101

You have different ways of thinking about colors:

You can pick the color based on the mood you are already in.

Or you can pick the color based on the mood you WANT to be in.

Here are some color ideas on what to wear:

Best Colors to Wear to the Office

1. Green

This color denotes freshness, safety and harmony. It’s also associated with money and the “go” signal for a traffic light—both great characteristics in the workplace. The color green is restful on the eyes and produces the least amount of eyestrain, making this a good choice for people who sit in front of a screen for many hours.

2. Blue

This is the color of truth and wisdom. It also has a calming effect and is linked to intellect. It’s also the most stable color. So if you have a volatile or drama-filled workplace, blue is a great color to wear to counteract the tension.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MAwuB8HAleY

3. Brown

The color of stability, brown is also seen as masculine. If you’re a woman in a predominantly male workplace, wearing a chocolate brown suit can give you credibility.

4. Black

This power color can convey feelings of mystery and seriousness. It is also considered elegant and has a thinning effect. (And who doesn’t love that?) If you want to be treated seriously, the typical black suit with a splash of green or blue works wonders.

Worst Colors to Wear to the Office

1. Yellow

This is the happiest of all the colors and usually stimulates joy. However, yellow is considered an unstable color, so it can be over-energizing for the office and make the wearer look weak.

2. Grey

Grey implies that people are passive, uninvolved and have a lack of energy. If you like wearing grey, pairing it with a brighter color such as blue can help offset the negative effect.

3. Red

This is the color of aggression and passion—great for a first date, not so great for the office. It also increases metabolism and raises blood pressure, which is why it’s used for stop signs and fire engines. Red can be seen as a bit hostile in the work environment, so think twice before wearing it often.

Colors to Wear in Moderation or as Accents

1. Orange

This is a color of stimulation and enthusiasm. It’s not as aggressive as red, but can catch attention, so it’s good to wear in moderation.

2. Purple

Purple reminds people of royalty and luxury. It’s also the color of magic. However, since purple rarely occurs in nature, it’s also seen to be artificial. A purple scarf, tie or purse can be a nice, subtle addition to any outfit.

3. White

This color is associated with cleanliness and perfection. It is always a safe choice for a shirt or scarf, but too much white denotes timidity and sterility—not good for workplace relations.

Colors affect our moods and how others perceive us. But, of course, colors aren’t the only thing that affects how people see us—you can still be liked at work even if you’re wearing a yellow suit. Still, when given the choice, pick a color that will work for you and not against you.

There is also some amazing color psychology research on different situations. Take a look at these interesting color ideas:

What Color You Should Make Your Desktop: Green

What color you choose for your desktop and the colors you choose for your website can greatly affect your productivity. The color green is restful for eyes and produces the least amount of eyestrain. This is a good choice for computer desktops if you are in front of a screen for many hours.

What Color to Wear to Work Out: Orange

Orange is a color of stimulation and enthusiasm. Orange is a nice mix of red’s passion and yellow’s joy. Research has found that orange increases oxygen supply to the brain, produces an energizing effect, and stimulates brain activity.

What Color to Wear on a Date (if you’re a woman): Red

Red is the color of passion and gets blood pumping. Women can wear this to get their date’s heart racing.

What Color to Wear on a Date (if you’re a man): Blue

Blue is the most stable color. Women love seeing stable men. It is also calming and can help relax both you and your date’s nerves.

What to Wear If You Want to Be Seen As Strong: Black

Researchers examined statistics from more than 52,000 National Hockey League games and found that teams were penalized more for aggression while wearing black jerseys. (Hockey teams have two color jerseys and switch for home and away games). Interestingly, the NHL in 2003 changed its jersey policy so that home teams had to wear white. The authors of the study compared the sets of data and found that the same teams were assessed significantly more penalties for aggression when they wore the black jerseys than when they wore white.

What Colors You Should Paint Your Office: Blue and Green

In 1999, researchers at Creighton University found that colors significantly influence employees’ emotions and efficiency. Workers in blue offices felt the most centered, calm and hopeful towards their work. Since blue can lower heart rates and green reduces anxiety and is associated with money, a combination of blue and green is best for the workplace.

What Color You Should Never Wear to Work: Grey

Grey inspires people to be passive, uninvolved and have a lack of energy. If you like wearing grey, pairing it with a brighter color will help offset the effect.

Choosing the color of your office, your clothes or your desktop should not be taken lightly — colors do affect our moods and productivity. However, colors are not the only thing that affects us — one can still be efficient in a grey suit or workout well in a black outfit. But, when given the choice, picking a color that will work with you, and not against you can only help.

 

Citations:
Jacobs, Keith W. and Frank G. Hustmyer Jr. (1974), “Effects of Four Psychological Primary Colors on GSR, Heart Rate and Respiration Rate,” Perceptual and Motor Skills, 38, 763-66.

Color Wheel Pro. Accessed: October 31, 2012. 

University of Hawaii at Hilo; The Psychology of Color; Kalyan N. Meola; 2005

“Effects of Office Interior Color on Worker’s Mood and Productivity.” Nancy K Wallek, Carol M. Lewis, and Ann S. Robbins. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1988, 66, 123-128.

Birren, F. (1978). Color & Human Response. New York: John Wiley & Sons. Inc.

Mahnke, F. (1996). Color, environment and human response. New York: Wiley.

Mahnke, R. & Mahnke, F. (1993). Color and Light 1993. New York: John
Wiley & Sons.

Webster, G., Urland, G., & Correll, J. (2011). Can Uniform Color Color Aggression? Quasi-Experimental Evidence From Professional Ice Hockey Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3 (3), 274-281 DOI: 10.1177/1948550611418535

About Vanessa Van Edwards

Vanessa Van Edwards is a national best selling author & founder at Science of People. Her groundbreaking book, Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People has been translated into more than 16 languages. As a recovering awkward person, Vanessa helps millions find their inner charisma. She regularly leads innovative corporate workshops and helps thousands of individual professionals in her online program People School. Vanessa works with entrepreneurs, growing businesses, and trillion dollar companies; and has been featured on CNN, BBC, CBS, Fast Company, Inc., Entrepreneur Magazine, USA Today, the Today Show and many more.

5 replies on “Color Psychology: What Colors Should You Wear and Why”

  1. G B

    I almost always wear only black. I am thin, so part of my thinking is that the perceived potential for aggression may balance my physical limitations. One of my strengths is academics, and I think people may associate black with Steve Jobs–I would obviously welcome that. I bicycle on most days and black resists showing dirt. I prefer that all my clothes combinations go together, and wearing black seems to be among the more cost-effective ways to make that happen.

    Still, I like to periodically reconsider. I still like how I look, but have few connections and want to make many more. Is wearing black likely to impede this goal?

    1. Danielle McRae

      Hey GB, thanks for sharing. Black may not impede your goal, but I would be curious to see what happens when you wear a different color. Will people interact with you differently? Treat you differently? Will you feel a change in yourself? Sounds like it’s time for a little self-experiment!

      Danielle | Science of People Team

  2. Caq

    Don’t know how did I end up reading a two-year old post, but… whatever.
    There’s one thing, though. What do you mean by “stable”?
    I am pretty sure I’m emotionally stable, but anywhere else I’m probably the most unstable person ever. I’m constantly changing my mind on everything, for instance. So… Wouldn’t it be pretty counterproductive to wear blue to a date?

    Also, Danielle’s question is a very interesting one, worth research in my opinion.

    1. Danielle McRae

      Hey there, Caq– great points. I’m not entirely sure the definition of stable here. Perhaps it’s any kind of stability whether that’s emotionally based or career-based, etc. Blue also portrays loyalty and tranquility, so it has a few other benefits as well. I don’t think it would be counter-productive to wear blue on a date. Remember, that this is just a color and more of an initial impression– if you’re indecisive your date will probably pick up on that pretty quickly no matter what color you’re wearing 😉

      We have a post coming soon on the power of the color blue, so definitely check back with on this one!

      Danielle | Science of People Team

  3. Danielle McRae

    I’ve always heard that certain colors mean different things, and you made it very easy to understand! It’s fascinating that our brains respond to color in that way. If you’re colorblind, does your brain still respond to the colors you’re seeing or is it different?

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