The Endless Implications of Colour

Colour has a powerful effect on the human mind, and it doesn’t just influence what we see. Colour affects our mood and emotions, our appetites and desires, and even our physical capabilities. Colour is a stimulant, anti-depressant, and aphrodisiac, and has powerful social, psychological, and cultural influence. Here are just some of the ways that colour affects our lives.

Colour Captures the Attention

EEG studies show that the brain reacts to our favourite colours even before the eye focuses on it. People look at their favourite colours longer, and react to their favourite colours more. Studies show that highly saturated colours make objects appear bigger than they are, and when highly colour-saturated objects are placed in a room, the room appears to be smaller. Simply altering colour saturation generates more attention and arousal in the brain, making everything else seem smaller by comparison.

It’s no surprise that colour influences everything we experience with food. Because we experience food first with our eyes, we naturally look at colour to indicate whether food is healthy, whether it is delicious, and what we expect it to taste like. In fact, colour is the single most important indicator of our sensory experiences with food, particularly in the modern world, where the consumer typically encounters food visually, with the aid of product packaging, before experiencing food with any other sense. In many side-by-side studies (as with two identical glasses of sweet liquid, one with more food colouring than another), the intensity of food colour is directly related to our perception of the intensity of food flavour. However, if food is coloured contrary to our expectations, we have an extremely negative response, particularly with orange and green foods. For example, if something tastes orange but is coloured green, or is flavoured lime but coloured orange, there is a specific negative reaction. We have more tolerance for this flavour/colour discrepancy in red.

The Power of Red

  • Red in foods. In fruits and vegetables, the colour red indicates the presence of polyphenols, antioxidants that reduce inflammation, improve immune response, and boost heart health. Red increases the metabolism, which stimulates appetite. In placebos, red pills are perceived as having a stimulant effect.
  • Red in clothing. Studies show that men perceive women in red clothing as being more attractive.
  • Red in sports. Among equally matched competitors, the athlete or team in red uniforms wins 55-60% more often. Teams in red uniforms win more leagues than teams in other colours, even in teams from the same city.
  • Red and time. Red affects our perception of time. A red screen is perceived as being onscreen for longer than a blue screen, even when the times are the same. Red screens and red lights also boost reaction times, and many casinos use red light because there is some evidence that red light makes people bet faster, more frequently, and for higher stakes.

The Influence of Orange

  • Orange in foods. Orange fruits and vegetables are high in beta carotene, an antioxidant that protects the body from free radical damage, and helps to reduce heart disease, inflammation, and lowers the risk of cancer. Orange is associated with activity, vitality, and with physical comfort, and is the colour of physical health and wellbeing.
  • Orange in psychology. Orange is a stimulating colour without the perceived urgency of red. Orange has the stimulating properties of red, with the happier, brighter connotations of yellow, so it’s energetic, enthusiastic, and warm.
  • Orange in marketing. Orange supports a greater range of tones and values than red, while still standing out in a wide range of settings. For that reason, it is very popular in website design and print advertisements, where it draws attention while working well with both warm and cool colours.
  • Orange in interior design. In retail stores, studies show that orange is associated with cheapness and low quality, unless balanced with soft lighting: with soft lighting, an orange interior creates the highest level of perceived price fairness of any retail interior colour scheme. However, in office environments, workers were least likely to want to work in an orange or purple office, with greater effect on mood and performance the greater the colour saturation of the environment.

The Meaning of Green

  • Green in food. It goes without saying that green is the colour of nature, so it’s perceived as being healthy and tranquil, and is associated with feelings of abundance. In food, the colour green is produced by chlorophyll, and green foods are loaded in vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre, and disease-fighting phytochemicals.
  • Green for students. The colour green improves reading ability, and laying a transparent green film over a book improves reading speed and comprehension.
  • Green in interiors. Green is used in décor for its calming effect, because it evokes feelings of refreshment and security. Green is a versatile colour that can be attractive in a wide range of tones and saturations, and is frequently used in healthcare settings to put patients at ease.
  • Green in marketing. Green has become the most powerful signifier colour for health and environmental causes that the colour is virtually inextricable from that meaning now. Phrases like “go green” “green building” “green economy” etc have made green into a symbolic colour that heavily influences shopping decisions among certain consumers.

In the natural world, colors indicate the presence of complex chemical compounds, which we instinctively understand and respond to. Plants and animals use color to communicate, and humans, in turn, use color to communicate with each other. Never underestimate the power of color.