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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
University of Hawaii at Hilo; The Psychology of Color; Kalyan N. Meola; 2005
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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
Lead Investigator, Science of People
I’ve always wanted to know how people work, and that’s what Science of People is about. What drives our behavior? Why do people act the way they do? And most importantly, can you predict and change behavior to be more successful? I think the answer is yes. More about Vanessa.
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