It's hard for most of us to imagine a world without color, but something we could also have trouble grasping is that those colors -- whether the inviting blue of a clear summer sky or the cold impersonal gray of a waiting room -- can actually have a psychological and physical impact on us.
While everyone reacts to colors, a number of factors influence that reaction. Researchers haven't been able to pin down any universal classification system that will be able to predict how people will interpret and respond to the colors around them. This is because a person's culture, gender, age, emotional and mental state, specific experiences, mood -- as well as the appearance and combination of the colors themselves -- can all affect the reaction. And even then, those reactions might vary in type and intensity from person to person. This hasn't slowed the research down one bit, though, and the field of color psychology (closely entwined with that of color preference) is a popular one.
Research into color psychology isn't solely for academic purposes either. Many aspects of marketing focus on the impact colors have on people. Everything from logos to lobbies can be designed with color psychology in mind. People even consider the choice of colors in aspects of dress like fashion and uniforms and the décor of rooms like hospital rooms and nurseries.
On the next page, we'll spend some time examining how different colors affect us and see if there are any likely candidates someone could consider splashing on the walls to help a house sell.
The Color Wheel
Glancing at each color on the list below, think for a moment how it makes you feel, then read on to see if you had a common reaction. If not, don't worry. It's not an exhaustive list, and some event, personality trait or demographic factor might have made you feel another reaction. For example, if you've almost drowned in the ocean, blue might not be a very relaxing color for you. If you're an eight-year-old girl, you might scorn anything other than pink.
Let's run through that old trusty eight-crayon Crayola box:
- Red: Red is the color most people have the strongest associations with and reactions to. People frequently report feelings of strength, courage, aggression and excitement. Red can elicit an increased heart rate and energy level, and just a dash of red on something can really draw someone's attention. Whether it's a stop sign, a Valentine's day card or a warning label, red is there to catch the eye.
- Orange: Orange can spark some serious reactions, too -- people typically love it or they hate it. Orange is often linked with flamboyance, energy, comfort and warmth.
- Yellow: Yellow can be a happy, cheerful color. People often report feelings such as enthusiasm, energy, excitement and optimism when viewing it. In some shades and amounts, yellow is believed to be mentally and creatively stimulating, but in others it can be associated with cowardice, fear and anxiety.
- Green: Green is a color commonly used in expressions and symbolic associations, and it's only second to blue as a favorite color. Natural shades of green can feel refreshing, balanced and soothing, but other shades of green can invoke sickly, bland or slimy feelings. Green is often symbolic of concepts like peace, envy, luck and fertility.
- Blue: The majority of people agree: blue's the best. Maybe that's because this color can actually trigger the body to produce calming chemicals. Blue frequently invokes words like dependable, loyal, logical, soothing, calm and focused, although some shades can bring feelings that are more dynamic and exhilarating, or cold and distant. Blue also tends to increase worker and athlete productivity.
- Purple: Purple is the balance between the liveliness of red and the serenity of blue, so some uncertain shades of purples can leave people feeling a little uneasy or introspective. Others can invoke feelings of loyalty, quality, mysticism and wisdom.
- Black: Black is a powerful color, often bringing to mind authoritativeness and other strong, sometimes overwhelming, emotions. Black can be associated with grieving in the Western hemisphere, but head East and the color white makes people think of mourning.
- Brown: Brown often conjures up feelings of stability and naturalness. People commonly report experiencing sensations of reliability when they see brown and a sense of order and wholesomeness.
Of course, these are just some of the main basic colors; people can actually see millions of colors, which vary from each other in several ways. Above, we split them up by the some of the different hues they come in, but colors can come in different saturations -- how vivid or pale (unsaturated) a color is. Finally, colors can be judged by their brightness (intensity or value) -- a color's amount of light energy.
Color psychology has a number of practical applications, from the color selection for new medications to Web design and marketing. On the next page, we'll take a closer look at whether color psychology can assist in a matter that's all over the news right now: selling a home.
Using Color Psychology
Color psychology can definitely be a factor in home sales, both inside and outside the home. If you have a house to sell, one of the best courses of action you can take is to apply a fresh coat of paint -- and do it before the house hits the market. This highly recommended step, however, comes with some important caveats, which we'll discuss below.
Let's focus on the exterior of the house first. It doesn't matter how much you love orange or purple -- don't paint your house those colors. When you're trying to sell a house, the most important aspect to consider is what a buyer will be looking for, so appealing to the widest pool of potential buyers should be your goal.
White is definitely the safest bet, but there's also the look of your neighborhood to consider. It's a good idea to chose colors that will blend well with the general color scheme of your neighbors' houses. One poorly painted house can ruin the value of homes up and down the street. Here's a rundown of popular potential colors for your house's new look:
While some organic colors do creep into the bottom of the list, the muted neutral hues at the top are the most strongly recommended. This is for a couple of reasons. They can convey the message that your house is bright, clean and spacious. Light, neutral shades also help the house appear new and fresh. Finally, light colors are less likely to fade over time.
When it comes to the trim, shutters and doors, it's another story. Sticking with the colors listed above is still a safe bet, but you have more freedom to decide. Also, if you can't paint the entire exterior of your house, this is where you should concentrate your efforts. The front door in particular is key -- a warm, welcoming color can make a very favorable impression on possible buyers. Bright blues and reds work well.
When choosing secondary colors, keep a close watch on the way the colors interact -- it can make or break a house-painting scheme. If you don't have much of an eye for this sort of thing, consider hiring a color consultant to help you make some good matches.
Now let's step inside for a moment and consider how color psychology can stack the deck in your favor on the interior of your home. The same elements are important here -- light, neutral colors make rooms look bright and spacious, and off-white is the top choice. With a primer, it can cover any dirt, stains and out of style color schemes you might be looking to conceal.
If you can't paint all the interior areas of your home, focus on the first room buyers will enter, any problem areas and smaller rooms, which could benefit from a size-enhancing coat of paint.
Last but not least, if you've put in the time and money to have your house painted, let people know about it. Any ads, flyers or listings should mention when the new paint job took place, as well as the quality of paint used. For more information on colors and curb appeal, follow the links on the next page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
More Great Links
- Global Color Survey
- International Association of Color Consultants/Designers
- The Human Body Learning Experience
- The Luscher Color Test
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