How Colors Impact Human Behavior and Emotion

What is color theory?

Color Theory is the study of color’s impact on human behavior. It aims to understand why and how different hues affect our feelings, behavior, and decision-making processes. It’s used in many fields, from branding and marketing to interior design, art, and more, in an attempt to use color optimally to reach a certain goal. But they are not the only ones who use it. Most people unknowingly make everyday decisions based on color theory and color harmony.

The importance of color psychology in marketing

As colors have such a strong influence on our emotions, they can be used wisely in marketing to convey a specific message to the audience and shape the way a brand is perceived. Implementing the right color scheme is essential in building a distinct brand identity that sets the tone and personality of a company. This is true throughout all of a business’s marketing assets, from the logo design to the website, and any other visual content. When picking the right hues to reflect your brand, you can of course use an online color palette generator. But without a solid understanding of color psychology and how colors can be used to evoke emotions, you’ll have a tough time making the best choice.

Color meanings

While each color can be used in a never-ending range of shades, tints, and tones, the psychology of color offers general guidelines that can help with your palette choices. Here’s a list of colors and their meanings:

Blue color psychology

Ranging from teal to navy to indigo and more, the color blue tends to be perceived in different ways depending on the shade. It’s now often used in corporate logos, making its connection to business and especially to the tech industry somewhat inherent in certain areas of the globe. Social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter come to mind, as do other high-tech companies like IBM and HP.

The reason it’s become so popular amongst corporations could be to do with the fact that blue is generally seen as reflecting loyalty and stability. It’s also often connected to feelings of tranquility, harmony, and calmness, reminding us of the sea and sky. In fact, as part of their World’s Favorite Color survey, paper manufacturer G.F Smith found dark blue to be the most relaxing color in the world. However, blue also has another side to it; it’s often connected to feelings of depression, hence the term “feeling blue.” Throughout art history, it’s been used by various artists, most notably Picasso, to express a somber and negative mood in their work.

Green color psychology

The color green is widely associated with nature. In color psychology, it’s also often used to symbolize ecology and sustainability, making it a popular choice among brands that want to position themselves as environmentally friendly. It can also relate to growth and freshness. For example, Spotify’s use of a vibrant shade of green suggests that the company is full of life and vitality.

Yellow color psychology

Yellow is a great color for capturing attention. Our eyes naturally process it first, making it a smart choice for warning signs, reflective vests, ambulances, and more. It’s used for the same purposes in nature. However, as well as symbolizing caution, yellow is also very much associated with optimism, sunshine, and warmth. These positive connotations to yellow are prevalent around the globe and among many different cultures. This fairly universal perception of yellow could explain the choice to use yellow for emojis. It’s also used in branding to suggest a fun, happy vibe, for example in Burger King’s logo or McDonald’s’ famous Golden Arches.

Orange color psychology

What came first, orange the color or the fruit? As a color, orange ranges from dark, earthy tones like terracotta, to more pinkish hues like salmon and coral. Generally, the color is perceived as positive and cheerful, but certain hues also relate to caution, which is why it’s often used for traffic cones and police vests. Named after the fruit (in response to the above-mentioned question), the color orange naturally exudes a sense of freshness and vitality.

Falling under the category of warm colors, it also emits a feeling of heat and summer, while its darker tones are often connected to autumn. In marketing, orange is often used as a slightly softer alternative to red.
It draws attention without being too obtrusive, which is why we can see many call-to-action examples that make use of the color.

Red color psychology

Red is generally seen as an extreme color – in all its mean­ings. It holds strong connotations to love, desire, and se­duction, while on the other hand also being associated with feelings of danger, anger, and violence. It also evokes a sense of energy and instantly grabs attention, thanks to its high visibility. This makes it an appropriate color for warning signals like stop signs & fire engines. Different cultures around the globe perceive red in diverse ways. For example, in China’s stock markets, the color red is used to symbolize a price increase, whereas the extreme opposite (the stock going down in price) holds true in many other countries. Red’s bold and powerful presence also makes it the color of choice for many iconic brands, like Coca-Cola and more recently, Netflix. For Coca-Cola, the color red conveys a sense of ex­citement, energy, and youth.

Pink color psychology

While pink has a long history of being perceived as girly and fluffy, this stereotype is gradually fading as more non-traditionally feminine brands make use of the color in their marketing efforts. In color psych­ology, pink is often associated with playfulness, fun, and lighthearted­ness. Bright shades of pink like magenta or Fuschia stand out. Perhaps the most well-known brand that uses pink in its visual identity is Barbie — a company strongly associated with all things girly. Many other businesses targeting women also opt for pinks, such as make-up brand Benefit and Victoria’s Secret. However, we can also spot the recent surge of pink in tech companies. The color has been newly embraced in tech for the feeling of energy, youth, and excitement that it brings.

Black color psychology

Black has many different color meanings. On the one hand, it is seen as timeless and classic. Think of a sophisticated suit, for example, or the classic “little black dress.” It can evoke elegance, sophistication, power, and mystery. But on the other hand, it’s also linked to pessimistic feelings of anger, loneliness, and depression, as well as mourning in Western culture. Black has also caused a stir in the art world, as artist Anish Kapoor acquired exclusive rights to Vantablack – also known as the “blackest black in the world.” In marketing, many brands opt for black as their logo’s color of choice. Iconic logos such as those of Nike, Gucci, and Adidas were designed in black. As a clean choice that never goes out of style, the color can always be combined with other hues, making it comfortable to work with.

White color psychology

White is widely seen as reflecting innocence, purity, goodness, and rebirth. For many, it symbolizes a clean white canvas, or in other words, a fresh new beginning. It’s a neutral color that enables our eyes to rest, which is why it’s widely used in many fields, from interior design to web design (like the generous amount of white space around this blog post). In certain cultures, white relates to death and mourning. In Eastern Asia, white clothing is worn during mourning to symbolize rebirth and purity, whereas, in Western culture, a bride typically wears a white dress on her wedding day.

Observing the effects colors have on each other is the starting point for understanding the relativity of color. The relationship of values, saturations, and the warmth or coolness of respective hues can cause noticeable differences in our perception of color:

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