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Psychology research reveals the connection between color and emotion

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Does red make us feel dominant? Does blue give us more pleasure than green? Scientists sought to answer these and other questions in a study published in 2016.

Previous research has shown that colors can affect behavior and emotions on a subconscious level, but scientists were interested in how we judge and perceive our own emotions relative to colors on a conscious level—specifically red, blue and green.

“Although the effects of colors can operate outside the conscious, identifying that the way colors are affectively judged can help scientists to explain their findings,” said Walid Briki, principal investigator and corresponding author.

Researchers were interested in measuring three emotional spectrums—dominance (feeling in control versus feeling controlled); arousal (feeling excited versus calm); and pleasure (feeling happy versus unhappy).

They hypothesized that red would be strongly associated with dominance and arousal; blue would be slightly associated with dominance but strongly associated with pleasure, and green would be associated with both arousal and pleasure.

The study, published in Applied Cognitive Psychology, included 154 French undergraduate students aged 18 to 22.  Researchers gave participants a laptop and showed them a color for ten seconds. They then asked participants to rate how strongly they felt each of the three emotions listed. The process was repeated for all four colors—red, blue, green and white (the control color).

The data revealed that red had the strongest effect on emotion. Participants rated high levels of dominance and arousal after seeing the color red.

“This supports studies that showed…the color red [is]a testosterone-based cue reflecting the notions of strength, power, threat, and dominance,” reported Briki.

Blue and green impacted participants’ emotions in the ways scientists expected, but to a much lesser extent than red.

The findings support some strategies for using the colors in everyday life, according to the research team.

“If people seek to trigger immediate…reactions in everyday life (e.g., asking drivers to reduce speed immediately) or to elicit attraction…red would be particularly useful because red may be perceptually treated as a signal of power and/or fertility,” said Briki.

“By contrast, using blue or green would be particularly recommended to elicit…motivation-related reactions from people and to develop a sense of confidence…blue and green seem to be particularly useful in academic or coaching contexts (e.g., giving a presentation and commenting on student work),” Briki continued.


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