Back
Back
  • Fruits.
    1

    Pantone for the soul – How do colours help thought?

    From the emotional frenzy of the rainbow spectrum to an objective look behind the psychological effect of colours.

    Text: Claudio Rimmele

Captivating colours.

Rio Carnival dancers draped in shimmering costumes, drag queens at CSD Berlin throwing confetti and streamers, women in saris at the Holi Festival in India dancing and vanishing into a cloud of coloured powder. Three festivals and three cultures that could not be more different. And yet they are all caught up in the same frenzy: a frenzy of colour. Colours are a psychological phenomenon of perception. Rather than having fixed properties, colours are entirely subjective perceptions created on our retina by light waves. A human has three types of cone in the retina. By contrast most other mammals have just two. As a result, we can distinguish between more than 7 million colours. This incredible number is the product of 500 brightness levels, 200 hues and 20 saturation levels. It is this miracle of perception that prompted many thinkers, from Aristotle to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, to examine colours and their effect on humans in great detail. Because although colours do not actually exist in the physical world, they affect us, are part of our memory, our basic instincts and can help to improve our well-being.


Fruits.
Fruits.

From ancient Egypt to the Ayurvedic teachings.

The medical treatment rooms at the temple of Heliopolis, an ancient Egyptian town, of which only ruins remain today to tell the tale, were laid out so that the sun’s rays were broken up into different colours. Visitors to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were able to benefit from the healing effect of the brightly coloured plants and flowers that bloomed there. In pre-Christian China, sufferers of epilepsy were laid on purple carpets to calm them. The Ayurvedic teachings from India, one of the oldest healthcare practices in the world, assign organs, feelings and psychic characteristics to specific colours and patients are still treated along these specific lines today. In Europe, using colour as a means of therapy became especially popular at the turn of the century. Today, colour therapy is used above all in alternative and anthroposophic therapies. As yet, there are still very few studies that prove the claimed effects of colour therapies. Widely available, however, are studies that look at the effect of colours on a person’s emotional state and performance capability.


  • Fruits.
    1

Current psychological studies.

Where colours and emotions are concerned, there is a wealth of literature providing advice, all liberally sprinkled with amateur psychology. Though harmless, these colour theories are full of promises but lag far behind the actual findings from experimental psychology research. So far, for example, no empirical investigation has been able to prove completely that the colour blue has a calming effect on people. Likewise, there is no sufficient proof that cells painted in pink will calm down aggressive prisoners. Despite this, there are prisons in many parts of the world who now have these “cool down pink” cells.


Only two investigations have confirmed that colours do have an actual effect on our mental fitness and performance capability. In a study conducted by Elliot et al., test subjects who completed an IQ test which had a red cover sheet, performed significantly worse. It’s assumed that this is due to red being a signal colour that represents danger. In a performance context, red is also associated with academic stress, it being a reminder of the teacher’s red pen. However, colours can also improve our performance.


Psychology of Colors for Design Guidelines.

Professor Juliet Zhu from the University of British Columbia asked test subjects to solve a variety of problems in front of red and blue screens. The problems being solved required either creativity or high powers of concentration. The creative tasks were solved better in front of the blue screen, whilst those requiring greater alertness were more efficiently tackled in front of the red screen. Zhu gives the following psychological reasoning for these findings: “Because we associate red with warnings and mistakes, we become alert. Many people associate blue with the vast expanse of the sky and ocean; this conveys peace and calm and leaves room for thought.” It is possible to use this to develop design guidelines for the offices and living spaces of different professional groups. Designers and copywriters in blue rooms and the financial department in red rooms, for example. It’s debatable, however, whether people feel comfortable in such unnaturally colour-intensive spaces for very long and whether the effects start to wear off once they are used to them. More promising are the room designs which, for example, use natural light colours to promote higher concentration and greater well-being in the workplace.


Fruits.
Fruits.

More harmony – more colour interplay.

The psychology of colours is a world full of contradictions. The few genuine scientific findings are up against a great deal of amateur psychology and an off-the-wall range of esoteric colour theories. But one should not lose sight of the peace-making power of colours. At the Holi festival in India, the caste system and the concept of rich and poor lose all significance when the paint war starts. In Brazil, too, once wrapped in the colourful robes of the carnival, all differences and notions of class are set aside. The rainbow flag, once a symbol of the diverse LGBT movement, also became the flag of peace during the Iraq war. Because wherever people aim to create a system of values based on the principles of harmony, togetherness and peace, they do so with colours. So it’s worth having the courage to play an active part in shaping your own world. One splash of colour after another. Incidentally, a lively interplay of colours is also in evidence in the new S-Class from Mercedes-Benz. 64 colours and ten colour worlds ensure an avant-garde lighting display with spectacular colour changes, depending on the mood you wish to create. However, the ambient lighting is more than just an exciting design element: if desired, the driver is welcomed on-board with a special lighting mood. Colours also perform a communication role, indicating, for example, that the temperature of the air-conditioning system has been adjusted. As a result, your next journey will be almost as inspiring as contemplating a famous work of art.