Colour psychology: what is it?

Emily Kirkham | 07 May 2024

Colour psychology and the meaning of colour is quite often misunderstood and underappreciated in its value and the power it has over our physical and mental wellbeing.


Colour is light hitting our eyes in different wavelengths. When light hits the eye it’s converted into electrical impulses that move around our bodies and through the same part of our brain that processes emotions. Research has shown that colour and its varying tones have a phycological impact on us whether we realise it or not.
For example, we feel calm within nature from the earthy tones to the rich greens, this translated into an interior setting helps us relax and unwind. When we see bright yellows, we think of energy from the sun’s rays, positivity and happiness. Or when put into a vibrant red room, we can feel either anxiety and frustration or high energy and focus.

When choosing colour for the spaces we inhabit and design for, it’s important to think about what behaviours and emotions we want to promote. The tone and proportion of colour is fundamental to creating a functional space.


The Psychological Primary colours
Reds, Yellow, Greens & Blues are the psychological primaries that affect us all, with each one having different triggers for behaviours. This, along with its chromatic intensity, determines if a colour is soothing or stimulating. Below is a brief overview of colour meaning and their triggers.


Green: The colour of harmony and balance within us, it’s in the middle of the red & blue traits which are intellect and physicality. Green has a medium wavelength and sits in the middle of the colour spectrum, meaning our eyes need no adjustment when viewing it which is why it’s a restful and restorative colour. If used too much within a space however, it can lead to stagnation and boredom.


Blue: A colour of intellect and trust, blue triggers us mentally and is associated with calm, reflection and logic. Blue is one of the shortest wavelengths next to violet, a version of blue, which is often attributed with serenity and that of a higher power as it’s the last colour we see on the spectrum.


Yellow: A high wavelength, it’s the colour that triggers the most emotional response from us and is said to be the strongest in psychological terms. It’s the colour of happiness and confidence. However, used too much or in the wrong shades it can lead to irritation and anxiety.


Red: The longest in wavelengths, we see this colour first which can make things appear closer than they seem. Reds evoke a physical emotion that can trigger a fight or flight response, it can make us more energetic and excitable and even elevates our heart rate. Surrounding yourself by too much red however can be perceived as aggressive, confrontational and easily spur the feeling of annoyance. Red in situ can either make us feel uneasy or energised.

When using colour, it’s important to remember the adverse effects that they can have. Too much of a colour can have negative impacts but in the right setting, can work wonders. For example, Blue is a trustworthy & intellectual colour as previously mentioned, a deep blue within a focus room or study space will stimulate the brain and help the user concentrate and remain focused for a prolonged period of time, whereas if we used a lighter shade of blue or the wrong tone, it could come across as cold and uncaring.

Varying shades of colours each have their own psychological impacts blended from the associated primary: orange, blended from red and yellow is the colour of creativity and playfulness whereas pinks, a shade of red, symbolises love, comfort and nurturing.

It’s all about balance and the understanding of placements. This is why it’s particularly important to sit with clients and listen to what they need, how they want to elevate their space and what message they want to convey.

Next time you’re in an interior setting, be that an office, restaurant or bar, take note of the colours, tones and overall placements of materials and see how it makes you feel when inside. This can spark an interesting debate for you or your colleagues on how you approach aspects of personal and professional life.

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