Home world we live in What Color is Your Joy? The Science and Culture of the Psychology of Color

What Color is Your Joy? The Science and Culture of the Psychology of Color

by Marianne Navada

Psychology of color associates color with a specific emotional response. Designers and advertisers use this technique to influence mood and behavior, grab attention, and convey ideas.

The Science

The origins of the psychology of color relied on the connection between wavelength and physiological response. Colors with longer wavelengths energize us (red, and yellow). Colors with shorter ones calm us (green and blue). If color psychology solely relied on wavelengths, then by definition, we can’t consider black and white colors. Black does not have a wavelength. White comprises all wavelength since the color is produced by absorbing all colors. 

If measurable metrics (wavelength) fail to explain the association between color and emotions, are these connections grounded on culture?

Everyday Language and Culture 

According to linguistic relativity, language shapes how we see the world. In this case, our culture explains why we associate certain emotions with certain colors.

If measurable metrics (wavelength) fail to explain the association between color and emotions, are these connections grounded on culture?

Origins of Sadness and the Color Black

The word melancholy (sad), combines two Greek words: “black” mélanos + “bile” khole. Deep sadness literally translates to black bile. The word melancholy itself has lost its association with the word black, but for most English speakers, black continues to signify sadness, mourning, aloofness, and evil. But this association is not universal. 

When Blackness Meant Life

Ancient Egyptians called what we now refer to as Egypt, “kemet” meaning the black land. Black represents the fertile silt from the Nile. Black “symbolized fertility, new life and resurrection as seen through the yearly agricultural cycle” 

In Western cultures, white symbolizes purity and peace. In some Asian cultures, such as China and Korea, white signifies death and mourning.

The Lessons

In the English language, words and phrases that include the word black usually represent negativity (see list below). Exploring color associations has made me rethink some of the phrases and words I use. I’ve decided to stop saying “I’m in a dark place” if I feel down. I will work on reversing my way of thinking when it comes to color, such as starting to associate the color black with positive emotions.

  • Black market: illegal
  • Black sheep: a disgrace
  • Black heart: cunning and evil
  • Blacklisted: means to be excluded as a result of unworthiness
  • Whitelisted: Whitelisted: refers to a list of approved items
  • Black magic: magic based on evil
  • White magic: magic used for selfless purpose
  • Black lies: harmful
  • White lies: harmless

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