How Color Affects Us

The athletic director of the University of New Mexico wasn't trying to be funny when he decorated his football team's dressing room in bright red and their opponent's quarters in pale blue pastels. Alonzo Stagg, while head coach at Chicago, employed similar strategy when he had two dressing rooms for his players - one painted blue for rest periods, and the other painted red for fight talks. Both men were simply using smart color psychology.

Scientists, busy unlocking the secrets of the rainbow, have unearthed some amazing facts about color. They have proved that the colors on the red side of the spectrum are warm and stimulating while their blue-green opposites are cool and relaxing.

Blue can be a real emotional sedative. Some hospitals have found that patients recover more quickly if they are placed in blue rooms following major surgery. Blue rooms are sometimes used to quiet violent inmates of mental hospitals.

The right shade of yellow can produce a sensation of sunlight and warmth, but just a slight change in shading can cause a feeling of nausea. Commercial airlines many years ago abandoned interior decorations in yellow because certain shades encouraged air-sickness. For the same reason yellow foods should also be avoided during air or ocean voyages. Yellow is an excellent color, however where 'food for thought' is concerned. Research has shown that the grades of school children rose noticeably when their study rooms were redecorated in yellow.

One student of color, Howard Ketchum, declares: "Whether we realize it or not, color can lower our sales resistance, make us feel hot or cold, gloomy or gay (as in happy). It can affect a man's personality and mental outlook quite as definitely as a sleepless night, a cold in the head or a good square meal.

Ketchum tells the story of a New York manufacturer who redecorated the cafeteria of his factory in light blue. The female employees soon began to complain that the cafeteria was chilly. Some of them even started wearing their coats to lunch. The plant engineer protested that the temperature was thermostatically controlled and that the cafeteria was just as warm as the rest of the factory. The complaints continued, however, and a color engineer was called in. He ordered the baseboards repainted orange, had orange slip covers placed on the chairs....and the complaints ceased!

Workers in another factory comlained they were straining their backs lifting black metal boxes. Over the week-end, the ingenious foreman had the boxes repainted pale green. The following Monday several of the workmen were heard to remark about the ease of lifting 'these new lighweight boxes."

Studies had shown that dark-colored objects will almost invariably be adjudged heavier than light-colored objects. The average person is inclined to underestimate the temperture of a blue-room and overestimated the temperature of a red room.

Green and red seem to have psychological effects. Dr. Gilbert Brighouse of Occidental College in Los Angeles recorded the muscular responses of several hundred students under the influence of red and green lights. He found that their reactions were faster than usual under a red light, while green light actually retarded their reactions.

Most people tend to overestimated the passage of time under the influence of red and underestimated it under the influence of green or blue. This was shown to experiments with two groups of salesmen. The first group, divested of watches, was ushered into a red room for a conference. At its close, they were asked to guess how long it lasted. The average estimate was six hours. Actually the meeting had lasted just half that time! A similar poll was conducted among a group of salesmen conferring in a light blue room. All though they had spent less time than they actually had.

Color is an integral part of our daily life - from the green of the grass to the blue of the sky. Even our language is liberally sprinkled with colorful phrases we use to express our emotions - such as seeing red or green with envy. Certain qualities have been associated with specific colors. Black for instance is the traditional color of tragedy and death. In the Middle Ages, suicides from BlackFriar's Bridge, a gloomy black structure in the heart of London, declined by one third when it was painted bright green.

The effect of color on digestion as the result of such thought-association was dramatically demonstrated by Samuel G. Hibbon, an illumination engineer. He invited several guests to a table set with tempting foods. Each guest had a good appetite - until the group was seated and Hibbon pushed a button. The dining room was flooded with specially designed lights. As a result, the juicy brown steaks looked gray; the crisp celery turned pink; the coffee was transformed into a sickly yellow fluid. Most of the guests couldn't eat a thing. Some of those who forced down the food were actually nauseated.

The importance of color in business and industry was shown when a Chicago packing house tripled its sales after changing the yellow walls of its display rooms. Aware that each color has its specific after-image color engineers discovered that the yellow created a gray after-image which robbed the meat of its natural redness. Sales leaped after they advised painting the walls green because the contrasting after-image made the meat lood redder than ever.

Exhausting tests have demonstrated that color is one of the prime factors in the sale of virtually every commodity on the market today. When frozen foods first appeared they were packaged in ice-green or snow-blue containers with pictures of Eskimos or igloos or other Arctic designs. They didn't attract the eye of the average housewife, however, until they were re-packaged in waremer colors that suggested the appetizing appearance of the re-heated food.

Selecting the proper colors to suit your changing personal moods is a more difficult matter. Suppose you feel depressed and in need of a bright environment for an emotional lift? Then suppose by tomorrow you're brimming over with exciting plans that require the sedative effect of pale blue? Well, the Color Research Institute of America has a partial solution to this problem - keep changing colors with your moods.

That's easy enough in clothing, and it can be done also in your surroundings. Keep the walls gray or some other neutral shade and use spots of color - in pictures, slip covers or hangings - that can easily be changed.

As for the right colors to go with the outfit that suits your mood, the institute suggests:

Take a sheet of black paper or cardboard,
cut out a two to four inch square,
look at the color of your outfit through this 'window' for about 30 seconds and then look at a blank sheet of white paper.

The color that appears on the paper will be the after-image - a complement of the original color.

Color for Healing & Mood Alteration

Color yourself well or sober - it can be done, according to psychologists who have studied the link between different colors and how they make people feel.

Some leaders in this field are convinced colors can be used to cure a variety of illnesses and emotional problems ranging from alcoholism to ulcers.

'Studies have shown that the colors surrounding a person can have a profound effect on health, to the point that they may even influence the course of a disease,' says Dr. Richard T.Davis, of the Psychology Department at the University of California, Los Angeles.

A recent study disclosed that blue lighting in a factory made the women look sick, which made them believe they were ill. This led to them staying home more often.

The factory owners painted the walls warm beige and absenteeism dropped immediately.

Dr. Oscar Brunler, a Swedish researcher who has studied the effects of color on animal habits, found that a group of mice placed in slate blue boxes became listless and inactive. Switched to yellow boxes, they became alert and active.

Dr. Brunler also exposed two groups of mildly intoxicated men to different colored lights. Those in yellow-orange light stopped drinking and those in red light kept drinking.

A physician in Pinehurst, N.C., Dr. Francis Owens treated burns on some of his patients by holding the affected area under a light wrapped in green paper.

After half an hour under the green light, the patients, some with second and third degree burns, reported the pain had ended dramatically.

Dr. Owens said the burned areas also healed far more quickly than he would have normally expected.

Here is how Dr. Davis rates colors for healthful effects:

  • RED - stimulates the circulatory system, helps overcome inertia and may help break up congestion. Japanese experiments with rabbits showed that red lights also lowered blood pressure. But nervous people, or those with a high fever should avoid red, which overexcites the nervous system.
  • ORANGE - has been used to alleviate asthma and respiratory ailments and is also believed to ease cramps. It helps digestion and can provide relief from ulcer pain. It also boosts enthusiasm and morale.
  • YELLOW - is believed to be a muscle stimulant and helps a nervous condition. It also aids digestion and relieves constipation. Deep yellow-orange may relieve the join swelling of some forms of arthritis. It cheers up depressed patients.
  • GREEN - soothes nerves and promotes general healing. It also stimulates passion by reminding a person of spring and rejuvenation.
  • BLUE - helps reduce pain and fevers and helps people to relax. It aids in fighting infection or inflammation. In some cases, it has helped relieve migraine headaches.
  • INDIGO - relieves swelling and pain and is a good sedative.
  • VIOLET - promotes sleep. It also lowers body temperatures and improves the circulatory system.

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