What do colours mean? Part I
The magic of colour is around us constantly. It influences our purchasing patterns, modifies our moods and physiology and alters our appetites and levels of confidence. Colours even affect our sense of time and temperature. We use colour as a prime indicator of ripeness when we select fruit and vegetables and it’s even thought that colour may override flavour in taste perception. What does a lime-flavoured drink taste like when it’s coloured orange?
As a species we’ve been hardwired to visual cues including colour which, scientifically, is the first thing we see. Colour is nature’s signal system and we instinctively respond. Yellow is the first colour we see in daylight (the sun) and it indicates alertness and action for the day. Blue is the first colour we see in the night light and it indicates rest and retreat.
Whether it’s colour in commerce, colour in nature, colour in your personal life or colour in your wardrobe, the average person sees up to 16 million shades, tints and tones of colour, from a base set of only 11 colours: blue, green, purple, pink, red, orange, yellow, black, white, grey and brown. In this article we’ll look at how colours influence your psyche and how your colour preferences are a guide to your personality and psychological status.
A world without colour would be a sad and dismal place. Fortunately, we’re bathed in the beauty and energy of colour constantly. An understanding of colour, plus an appreciation of which colours are natural attractors and what this means, gives you an opportunity to use colour to your advantage. You can use colour for your personal wellbeing, just as commerce uses colour as a tool of communication.
Reaction to colour is subjective — however, this doesn’t mean it’s not predictable. Long-term personal colour preferences reflect elements of our stable personality. Shifting, short-term likes and dislikes of various colours indicate the state of our disposition at varying times in different circumstances.
Colour preferences indicate the conscious and unconscious psychological structure of individual areas of psychological and physical stress and imbalance in our life.
An attraction to a particular colour at one phase in our life (little girls and pink) may transition to an acute dislike of that same colour later in life. Constant immersion in a specific colour (school uniform) may morph into a total rejection of that colour later — perhaps for a lifetime, if the memories are particularly unpleasant.
Society, too, makes distinctions around colour. Research shows that old money prefers deeper, richer, pulled-back colours such as charcoal, burgundy, navy, deep green, coco and cream — colours deemed discrete and understated, as if it were inappropriate to draw attention to oneself. Brights are used only for accents, if at all.
New money, on the other hand, is more likely to be celebratory and expansive with colour choices. The new red Mercedes will be sure to alert everyone to new-found success.
Colour in the brain and body
Colour is variations in light and energy that travels in wavelengths to us from the sun. When light strikes the eye, it is passed to the hypothalamus which in turn sends orders through the spinal cord to the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems to signal the pituitary gland to release hormones. The hormones influence the physiology of the body and our moods.
It’s easy to underestimate the influence of our primitive reactions because they are to a large extent unconscious. Yet it is our innate understanding of the messages of colour in nature that have enabled us to survive as a race. Whether you reject or embrace a colour reflects much about your personality and psyche. So let us consider the meaning and implications of the specific colours.
White is all colours combined. It is the personification of purity and perfection. Angels are usually depicted in white. It is the colour of enlightenment, the colour of flight and freedom. Brides wear white traditionally to show new beginnings, as a sexual being and as a partner. It is the colour of openness, chastity and innocence, and of fresh starts.
White gives us the freedom to be individual and independent and can be the colour of the loner. It is the desire to have new beginnings, freedom or flight, the option to simply get up and go. You may find yourself attracted to ornaments or pictures of birds (flight; up, up and away), when you’re in a white phase.
White is the colour of good character and cleanliness. White knights, rather than black knights, saved damsels in distress. Lab coats and nursing uniforms are traditionally white, symbolising clinical approaches, sterility, healing, hope and optimism. We have whitegoods in our homes to keep ourselves clean and ensure food is fresh and sanitary. A white flag universally symbolises truce or surrender: no more war, no more blood, you are ready to clean up your act!
An attraction to white, even a craving for white, indicates a desire for freedom. The colour that you least like, in conjunction with your preference for white, will indicate what you want freedom from something:
- Red freedom from the physical exhaustion and busy physical schedule
- Blue freedom from boredom
- Pink freedom from relationships
- Yellow freedom from the mental alertness and concentration you must have
- Green freedom from the controls and criticism you endure.
An attraction to white also indicates a desire for perfection. It’s not unusual for a white stage to indicate a desire to clean, de-clutter, re-order and simplify. This is simply a desire for freedom from chaos.
When you dislike or reject white you have a fear of freedom and responsibilities. Support is preferred. Isolation is not wanted.
In terms of decorating, too much white in some situations is not good. It creates glare, causing the eye to squint — which means the eye partially shuts down and, in doing so, shuts out a percentage of information. This is not good in a working environment.
Black is all colours totally absorbed. Black takes energy from others, giving nothing back. It is the absence of life and leaves lethargy and fatigue in its wake. Black is a colour of might, menace and mystery.
People are often afraid of the dark. Movies create fear by removing the light. Black is used negatively far more than in positive terms. We refer to black magic, black holes, black heart, blackmail — the list goes on. The villain always wears the black outfit. In modern terms, Darth Vader is the archetypal black nemesis.
Black is a non-colour worn when we’re denying or being denied the colour of life. It indicates that self-protection is unconsciously in operation to survive the pressure we operate under. In a representative sample of the population, black is rarely chosen as a favourite colour. It is the colour women wear to diminish their size, to mask their flaws and blend into society. It is the colour of denial.
In magic, black is used to conceal, hide and hoodwink the audience. It is the colour of deceit and fraud. Healthy bodies need full spectrum light, so constantly wearing black leaves the physical depleted.
Black is traditionally the colour of service, of maids, butlers, waiters, undertakers — tasks we expect to be performed without fuss, quietly, in the background. Conversely, black is also a barrier that creates power. It holds you apart from others and says you are not open, you are closed. Depending on your height and colouring it can carry the perception of formality, seriousness and weight, or clout.
If you find black appealing or crave black, this suggests you need to conserve your energy. Black is the back-to-the-womb colour to regenerate and renew before a new birth. If you like black, put it in your life: eat liquorice, place flowers in a black vase, put fruit in a black basket, place black cushions on a sofa. However, you should seriously consider your need to shroud your body with it. When you’re over your black phase, put the black objects away — they’ll be there if needed again.
Craving black can indicate a desire to pursue your own way, regardless of others and perhaps to the point of renunciation (think priests and nuns, Quakers and Puritans). Black may indicate a desire to explore the mysteries unknown: drugs, witchcraft, the underworld.
Black can send a message of the “absolute”, depending on what colour is selected with the black:
- Black with Red means absolute satisfaction of desires
- Black with Blue means absolute tranquillity
- Black with Green means absolute control.
A specific rejection of black indicates a fear of the unknown, of death, or of relinquishing precious things.
Blue is the sky and the water, relaxed and at peace. Blue, the world’s favourite colour, is intellectual. It is the colour of the mind.
Contemplation of blue pacifies the central nervous system. Blood pressure and pulse rate reduce and respiration rate slows. It is a prerequisite for the feeling of empathy and for counselling and meditation. Blue is your de-stress colour and, while it does work to sooth the physical, it also stimulates the introspective.
The blue room
Medium-blue rooms are fine for productivity and induce steady concentration. Remember that blue causes the brain to produce relaxant hormones and you may become overly relaxed. Pale blues are more ethereal and flighty, with a tendency to promote daydreams.
Time moves slowly in a blue environment. You won’t get your work finished in a pale blue room because you’ll feel like you have lots of time, when in fact you don’t. If this is the case, try adding small objects of red or green to your environment.
Blue is excellent for bedrooms when you want calm; however, it’s not good if you have a sluggish circulatory system or you feel the cold. Blue will slow your circulatory system even more and you’ll feel the cold more acutely. This may be a positive solution for a bedroom that retains too much heat in the summer season.
Strong blue calms the mind and aids concentration. It slows the brainwaves and enhances learning and more effective gathering of information. Place a large piece of blue gift wrapping paper on the wall in front of your study desk when you need to do steady, paced learning — though it’s not the best option for a creative study assignment.
Blue is the rarest food colour and primitive humans learned that anything blue was often toxic or contaminated. When food was coloured with blue food dyes and served to research subjects, they lost their appetites. Paint your kitchen blue or serve your food on blue plates for a few months and you may have found a kilojoule killer!
The blue person
Blue is the colour of tranquillity. If you are drawn to blue in a busy world you are cool, calm and collected while others unravel. This “keep your cool” colour possesses a relaxed, inner calm that creates an easy, open channel for interaction with others. Blue generates a non-threatening presence, although to some your sense of calm may be interpreted as cool as in aloof and uncaring; at times you may be described as unemotional.
Darker blue carries authority and commands respect. Navy blue business suits give an individual presence. Blue is also indicative of strength and authority (eg, police). A good corporate colour, blue says you are steady, reliable and loyal. Blue instils a depth of trust. It is dedicated and dependable, a source of advice and knowledge we trust.
Blue is said to be the colour of breeding. The complexions of the regal and royal were so fine and so fair from their pampered lives that their veins looked blue against their pale skins — hence the term blue blood.
It’s also the colour of wisdom, learning, good judgment and self-assuredness. If you are in a blue phase you can be so self-assured, on some occasions you become the judge, jury and executioner. You are sometimes so self-managed, you love knowledge only for the authority it lends you.
If you favour or have a strong desire for blue, you’re using it to place or create calm in your life: you are busy and need to rest, recuperate and de-stress. Where possible, remove or reduce disturbances that interfere with your ability to get rest. Have your children taken care of for a day or two; turn loud music down or off; go to the park to get away from noisy neighbours; find a quiet place, perhaps a deep cosy chair in the lounge of a five-star hotel. Take the chair in the far corner and settle in with a great book and a few relaxing drinks.
If these options aren’t possible, get yourself mid- to lighter-blue PJs and dressing gown. At the end of your day, shower and change into them as soon as you get home and let the relaxing processes start as soon as possible.
Chaos will provoke you when you crave blue, so you might consider the value of cleaning up your environment and creating order to relieve some of your stress. Craving light blue? You have a need for spirituality or a need for clarification and understanding. What is it you need a clear mind about? Be proactive in sourcing the solutions or information necessary for that to happen. If you also crave pink at this time, it’s a relationship that you require clarity about.
If you have a low tolerance of blue or a negative attitude toward dark blue, you’re not keen to enter into relationships with strong emotional ties. Perhaps you’ve been disappointed in the past so you’re not comfortable with dependency, authority or intimacy. To compensate you may be seeking independence, relationships without ties and heaps of action.
If this is the case, red will be one of your preferred colours. If you’re using pride and control to manage or disguise disappointing relationships or connections, tones of green may be your preferred colour right now. If you’re searching for rational, reasonable solutions and a way out of disappointing relationships or connections, you may be attracted to yellow at this point.
Chris Rewell is a professional colour and image consultant. www.chrisrewell.com.au