CodeChangers STEM Blog post

Psychology of Color

  • Sydney
  • December 16, 2019
  • News

ST. GEORGE, Utah, December 16, 2019

You just got arrested for robbing the world’s largest bank. With a prisoner jumpsuit in hand, you are escorted into one of the most notorious prisons in the world. You turn the corner and you’re surprised to find that your cell is painted entirely in a light shade of… bubblegum pink! It may seem like it, but we assure you that Barbie did not have a say in this penitentiary’s interior design. Although now some studies feel like this has been debunked, pink has been long associated with providing a calming effect, and this correlation has influenced penitentiary paint jobs around the globe (Tedx Talks, 2017; Jarrett, 2014). Enter color psychology-- the ever complicated yet fascinating study of how color influences human behavior. You bet businesses have picked up on this psychology. Marketing teams and designers must be careful on how they choose their colors because, sometimes, it may mean the difference between keeping a customer and losing one (Ciotti, 2016). Let’s see how we perceive color, discuss how it influences everyday life and how real-life jobs employ it to maybe persuade you as a consumer.

In your brain, you have what is called the hypothalamus. Just today, your hypothalamus told you that you needed to eat breakfast, made sure you were sweaty in gym class and told you that that Hollywood star was cute. In short, this area of your brain controls all of your appetites (food and drink), triggers safety features to maintain healthy body temperatures (sweat, goosebumps) and encourages you to seek a mate to ensure that the human race will continue. What the heck does this have to do with color? Good question. According to the Tedx Talk, “The Psychology of Color” by Riley Johnson, once they eye perceives a color, the hypothalamus processes it (Tedx Talk, 2017). This may explain why certain colors have been found to increase behavioral patterns. For example, do you know why orange is often found in restaurants? We’ll let you in on a little secret. It’s not by accident. Orange colors have been found to actually increase appetite (Tedx Talk, 2017). Well done, Burger King. Well done. (Just check out their website--it’s an orange bonanza: https://www.bk.com)

However, color cannot be used like a switch to create feelings. Perceptions of color can be influenced by items such as preference, experience, culture and even gender (Tedx Talk, 2017; Ciotti, 2017; Rider, 2009). It would not be accurate to say that just because you added blue to your website, every single one of your clients will automatically trust you more. There are many factors that influence the perception of color--such as negative experiences (Tedx Talk, 2017; Ciotti, 2017). Let’s take your jail time, for instance. Pretend you had a traumatic experience with the medicine Pepto-Bismol after contracting a nasty flu. Now every time you encounter any shade of pink, you get woozy. Congratulations. After robbing the world’s largest bank, you now get a pink cell. Now pink may not have the intended relaxing effect on you, but it may make you skip lunch every now and then. Good luck in your brand new, pink prison.

Seasoned designers know that color can either be the difference between gaining and losing customers. For example, as mentioned in the article, “The Psychology of Color in Marketing and Branding,” by Gregory Ciotti, designers can employ the “Isolation Effect” via color to influence your choices (Ciotti, 2017). The Isolation Effect is where the likelihood of you remembering something increases because something stands out in its environment (Isolation effect). Designers can use this to their advantage. For example, according to the article mentioned above, a website that has a red button against a green background, versus a green button against a green background, is more likely to be clicked on than its green counterpart (Ciotti, 2017). This is because the red button sticks out and is noticeable. Now who said designers can’t manipulate your mind?

Color has a subtle, but impactful effect on human behavior. Whether it is something that can influence how you feel, subconsciously bring back past experiences or even increase your customer base, color is more powerful than we realize. So now as you try not to throw up in your pink penitentiary, remember that crime doesn’t pay--but maybe color will.

Works Cited

Ciotti, G. (2016, April). The Psychology of Color in Marketing and Branding. In Entrepreneur. Retrieved February 5, 2019, from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/233843

Isolation Effect (n.d.). In How to Get Your Own Way. Retrieved February 5, 2019, from http://www.howtogetyourownway.com/effects/isolation_effect.html

Jarrett, C. (2014, December). Are Prisoners Calmer When Their Cells are Painted Pink?. In The British Psychological Society Research Digest. Retrieved February 5, 2019, from https://digest.bps.org.uk/2014/12/02/are-prisoners-calmer-when-their-cells-are-painted-pink/

Morin, A. (2014, February). How to Use Color Psychology to Give Your Business an Edge. In Forbes. Retrieved February 5, 2019, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2014/02/04/how-to-use-color-psychology-to-give-your-business-an-edge/#6c3c7b82170a

Rider, R. (2009). Color Psychology and Graphic Design Applications (Master's thesis). Retrieved February 5, 2019, from https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=1118&context=honors

Tedx Talks. [Tedx Talks]. (2017, May 17). The Psychology of Color|Riley Johnson|TedxLosOsosHighSchool [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B7c0W5FZw64

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Pexels



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