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Eiuol

Psychological and Physiological Effects of Color

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What validity is there in saying certain colors always evoke particular emotions?

I’m sure many will associate cool colors with sadness or emptiness and warm colors with energy and liveliness. It has also been documented, for instance, that being surrounded by red will cause a raise in blood pressure. However, can such effects be taken into account when evaluating the aesthetic quality of a piece of work, or when evaluating how effectively an artist (or designer) conveys an intended thought or emotion? Since any emotion is an automatic evaluation of something or some circumstance based upon previous conscious evaluation, it would seem that that even associating cool colors with sadness cannot be used to say something like “since that artist is using a lot of dark blue, it is clear he is trying to convey sadness”. It would be up to the individual observer to judge the source of the evoked emotion, but like music, there is no probably (existing) objective way of judging use of certain colors. Whichever color may make me happy may make another person sad. Physiological effects could be explained by the simple fact that any emotion has some corresponding physiological effect. Perhaps, though, certain colors *always* cause certain uncontrolled physiological responses, similar to pain and pleasure, which would explain why it seems that certain colors are nearly universally associated with certain emotions. As a side question that may be interesting to answer: Can a person’s favorite color reflect their sense of life, making it more than just a preference? This can help reveal to what degree color can be objectively evaluated.

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At the level of basic physiology, there are no automatic emotional associations. Any such connections such as between death and black is culturally conventional, and can vary across cultures.

If you look good in blue, wear blue. Or pink, or whatever. If you look silly in yellow, it will probably make you sad.

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At the level of basic physiology, there are no automatic emotional associations. Any such connections such as between death and black is culturally conventional, and can vary across cultures.

I understand this part, but could color possibly cause a physiological response before the emotional response? The evaluation of that response would then cause the emotion, which then makes a pretty much universal emotional response to certain colors (like how pain is almost universally viewed as a bad thing, except for people who for some reason get a feeling of pleasure out of pain). I'm not discussing specific associations, like "black and death," but more general things, like "cool color schemes evoke sadness". Can any aesthetic evaluation be made about the use of color besides how it may make certain objects stand out and other purely compositional aspects? Of course it wouldn't prove whether or not there are any universal judgments to make about color, but I would be interested to know of any culture where cool color schemes were associated with generally positive emotions.

Edited by Eiuol

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I understand this part, but could color possibly cause a physiological response before the emotional response? The evaluation of that response would then cause the emotion, which then makes a pretty much universal emotional response to certain colors (like how pain is almost universally viewed as a bad thing, except for people who for some reason get a feeling of pleasure out of pain). I'm not discussing specific associations, like "black and death," but more general things, like "cool color schemes evoke sadness". Can any aesthetic evaluation be made about the use of color besides how it may make certain objects stand out and other purely compositional aspects? Of course it wouldn't prove whether or not there are any universal judgments to make about color, but I would be interested to know of any culture where cool color schemes were associated with generally positive emotions.

The only, possibly, innate response that I am aware of is an infant's response to high contrast. They seem to take an interest in black and white contrasted paper before one month of age. As soon as they can see at all, those objects will draw their attention. Anything beyond that is probably just association. Possibly early nearly immutable association, but still learned. Green grass and trees, blue skies and water, etc. A cross cultural study comparing response to colors between peoples in varied climates might be interesting. Comparing emotional responses people, particularity children, in yellow/brown deserts, snowy tundras, and lush forests might yield interesting results, but I am not aware of any. My guess is that they would get emotional comfort from color schemes that were familiar to them so it would vary by culture/climate.

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I've grown up in Canada, and previous to visiting Cuba, I had little appreciation for the then seemingly over-the-top-bright, intensely saturated colour palettes seen commonly in art produced by artists who live/work near the equator. While I was in Cuba, the second day there, I walked down to the water on the beach at the resort I was staying at, and was astonished to see a sun-blazing, over-the-top-bright, intensely saturated landscape of natural and manmade objects, and in that moment, I thought immediately of all of the paintings that I just didn't 'get' until I had personally experienced the light of the environment from/within which they were created.

After that, I revisited myriad paintings and began sourcing photographs of the regions they were meant to depict and/or where they were created. My whole visual scope of appreciation was blown wide open, and I wondered how in all the time I'd studied art, there had not been one mention of this, that every professor, teacher and artist I'd encountered had not mentioned or even given full attention to something so important as this.

Being from Canada, the necessity for traveling to really 'see' might be overlooked because the country is so large and most people probably do see much of it, without seeing much of a light change from coast to coast, and if most people don't leave altogether, they might not even know. I used to live in the southern-most part and now live in the far north, not quite as north as possible, but close.

I don't associate cool colours with negative emotion at all; the light here is usually cool. I do associate cool colours with a peaceful or serene feeling though, like the strangely audible silence during the long winter; it's peaceful and rejuvenating, not sad or depressing, or negative at all. We do have bright warm colours too, but they are always in contrast with the coolness of everything else. This is the distinct beauty of the north, I think.

I rely heavily on the content of a painting to convey the intended emotions. Perhaps I have a glitch in my brain that I don't seem to have automatic emotional responses to colours. I do find some colours physiologically irritating on their own and/or in combination, but this doesn't seem to me to be emotional. I can usually enjoy those colours in small doses in the right context.

This is a complex topic.

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At the level of basic physiology, there are no automatic emotional associations. Any such connections such as between death and black is culturally conventional, and can vary across cultures.

I wouldn't say that color associations are usually "conventional." The black clouds which historically bring destructive tornados to a farming region, and therefore evoke fear, versus the black clouds which bring only rain and sustenance of life to a desert tribe, and therefore evoke relief, are not based in "convention" but in context.

And there are certain hues, values and saturations that can evoke almost universal human associations and emotions. Red implies blood, being flushed with excitement, energy, warmth, etc., and therefore can evoke the emotions of passion, love, anger, etc.; and reds, along with oranges and yellows, are also the color of fire, and therefore evoke emotions related to our experiences with fire (both good and bad). Blues, on the other hand, are the colors of things which are usually cool -- the air of the sky, large bodies of water, shadows and winter -- and humans commonly associate them with cool characteristics or behaviors: lack of strong passion, lack of energy output, distance or indifference, fairness, rest, relief, etc.

There are also characteristics involving physical motion associated with colors (aggressiveness of approach, submissiveness of retreat, extraversion, introversion, etc.) as Kandinsky mentions in material I posted here (scroll down to the segment I titled "Kandinsky being very objective in describing the 'language' of color").

J

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I wouldn't say that color associations are usually "conventional." The black clouds which historically bring destructive tornados to a farming region, and therefore evoke fear, versus the black clouds which bring only rain and sustenance of life to a desert tribe, and therefore evoke relief, are not based in "convention" but in context.
The idea of a conventional relationship refers to one that may have some historical basis in reality, for example dark clouds or nighttime (where vision is impaired and live is dangerous). Such a relationship must be voluntarily accepted, and is not physiologically mandated (in comparison, our reaction jamming a nail into the pal of the hand is non-conventional and is physiologically mandated). There is a huge difference between "conventional" and "arbitrary". The relationship between a word and its concept is conventional, not arbitrary. Similarly, the relationship between a color an an emotion is conventional, not arbitrary.

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