Psychological Properties of color

There are four psychological primary colours – red, blue, yellow and green. They relate respectively to the body, the mind, the emotions and the essential balance between these three. The psychological properties of the eleven basic colours are as follows:

RED. Physical
Positive: Physical courage, strength, warmth, energy, basic survival, ‘fight or flight’, stimulation, masculinity, excitement.
Negative: Defiance, aggression, visual impact, strain.

Being the longest wavelength, red is a powerful colour. Although not technically the most visible, it has the property of appearing to be nearer than it is and therefore it grabs our attention first. Hence its effectiveness in traffic lights the world over. Its effect is physical; it stimulates us and raises the pulse rate, giving the impression that time is passing faster than it is. It relates to the masculine principle and can activate the “fight or flight” instinct. Red is strong, and very basic. Pure red is the simplest colour, with no subtlety. It is stimulating and lively, very friendly. At the same time, it can be perceived as demanding and aggressive.

BLUE. Intellectual.
Positive: Intelligence, communication, trust, efficiency, serenity, duty, logic, coolness, reflection, calm.
Negative: Coldness, aloofness, lack of emotion, unfriendliness.

Blue is the colour of the mind and is essentially soothing; it affects us mentally, rather than the physical reaction we have to red. Strong blues will stimulate clear thought and lighter, soft blues will calm the mind and aid concentration. Consequently it is serene and mentally calming. It is the colour of clear communication. Blue objects do not appear to be as close to us as red ones. Time and again in research, blue is the world’s favourite colour. However, it can be perceived as cold, unemotional and unfriendly.

YELLOW. Emotional
Positive: Optimism, confidence, self-esteem, extraversion, emotional strength, friendliness, creativity.
Negative: Irrationality, fear, emotional fragility, depression, anxiety, suicide.

The yellow wavelength is relatively long and essentially stimulating. In this case the stimulus is emotional, therefore yellow is the strongest colour, psychologically. The right yellow will lift our spirits and our self-esteem; it is the colour of confidence and optimism. Too much of it, or the wrong tone in relation to the other tones in a colour scheme, can cause self-esteem to plummet, giving rise to fear and anxiety. Our “yellow streak” can surface.

GREEN. Balance
Positive: Harmony, balance, refreshment, universal love, rest, restoration, reassurance, environmental awareness, equilibrium, peace.
Negative: Boredom, stagnation, blandness, enervation.

Green strikes the eye in such a way as to require no adjustment whatever and is, therefore, restful. Being in the centre of the spectrum, it is the colour of balance – a more important concept than many people realise. When the world about us contains plenty of green, this indicates the presence of water, and little danger of famine, so we are reassured by green, on a primitive level. Negatively, it can indicate stagnation and, incorrectly used, will be perceived as being too bland.

VIOLET. Spiritual
Positive: Spiritual awareness, containment, vision, luxury, authenticity, truth, quality.
Negative: Introversion, decadence, suppression, inferiority.

The shortest wavelength is violet, often described as purple. It takes awareness to a higher level of thought, even into the realms of spiritual values. It is highly introvertive and encourages deep contemplation, or meditation. It has associations with royalty and usually communicates the finest possible quality. Being the last visible wavelength before the ultra-violet ray, it has associations with time and space and the cosmos. Excessive use of purple can bring about too much introspection and the wrong tone of it communicates something cheap and nasty, faster than any other colour.

Positive: Physical comfort, food, warmth, security, sensuality, passion, abundance, fun.
Negative: Deprivation, frustration, frivolity, immaturity.

Since it is a combination of red and yellow, orange is stimulating and reaction to it is a combination of the physical and the emotional. It focuses our minds on issues of physical comfort – food, warmth, shelter etc. – and sensuality. It is a ‘fun’ colour. Negatively, it might focus on the exact opposite – deprivation. This is particularly likely when warm orange is used with black. Equally, too much orange suggests frivolity and a lack of serious intellectual values.

Positive: Physical tranquillity, nurture, warmth, femininity, love, sexuality, survival of the species.
Negative: Inhibition, emotional claustrophobia, emasculation, physical weakness.

Being a tint of red, pink also affects us physically, but it soothes, rather than stimulates. (Interestingly, red is the only colour that has an entirely separate name for its tints. Tints of blue, green, yellow, etc. are simply called light blue, light greenetc.) Pink is a powerful colour, psychologically. It represents the feminine principle, and survival of the species; it is nurturing and physically soothing. Too much pink is physically draining and can be somewhat emasculating.

Positive: Psychological neutrality.
Negative: Lack of confidence, dampness, depression, hibernation, lack of energy.

Pure grey is the only colour that has no direct psychological properties. It is, however, quite suppressive. A virtual absence of colour is depressing and when the world turns grey we are instinctively conditioned to draw in and prepare for hibernation. Unless the precise tone is right, grey has a dampening effect on other colours used with it. Heavy use of grey usually indicates a lack of confidence and fear of exposure.

Positive: Sophistication, glamour, security, emotional safety, efficiency, substance.
Negative: Oppression, coldness, menace, heaviness.

Black is all colours, totally absorbed. The psychological implications of that are considerable. It creates protective barriers, as it absorbs all the energy coming towards you, and it enshrouds the personality. Black is essentially an absence of light, since no wavelengths are reflected and it can, therefore be menacing; many people are afraid of the dark. Positively, it communicates absolute clarity, with no fine nuances. It communicates sophistication and uncompromising excellence and it works particularly well with white. Black creates a perception of weight and seriousness.

Positive: Hygiene, sterility, clarity, purity, cleanness, simplicity, sophistication, efficiency.
Negative: Sterility, coldness, barriers, unfriendliness, elitism.

Just as black is total absorption, so white is total reflection. In effect, it reflects the full force of the spectrum into our eyes. Thus it also creates barriers, but differently from black, and it is often a strain to look at. It communicates, “Touch me not!” White is purity and, like black, uncompromising; it is clean, hygienic, and sterile. The concept of sterility can also be negative. Visually, white gives a heightened perception of space. The negative effect of white on warm colours is to make them look and feel garish.

Positive: Seriousness, warmth, Nature, earthiness, reliability, support.
Negative: Lack of humour, heaviness, lack of sophistication.

Brown usually consists of red and yellow, with a large percentage of black. Consequently, it has much of the same seriousness as black, but is warmer and softer. It has elements of the red and yellow properties. Brown has associations with the earth and the natural world. It is a solid, reliable colour and most people find it quietly supportive – more positively than the ever-popular black, which is suppressive, rather than supportive.


Reading between the colors [02/28 – 03/07]

I have found the below extensive list of sources in the past week. I have not had enough time to delve into them deeply. The readings and websites are very informative, and I think are great resources.

I definitively want to read the book mentioned, as well as read the journal article. I will visit the art therapy websites again. I hope to hone in on at least one and visit the centre to get a better idea of how they work. Once I pin point the organization, I could email the person in charge and perhaps meet a doctor to better understand the topic.

1. Using Crayons to Exorcise Katrina, The New York Times

Karal Leopold, an art therapist from California uses art as a therapy for survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

2. When the senses become confused, The New York Times

The article traces the condition of patient Dr Roush, who cross wiring of the brain has developed as a consequence of a stroke. Her doctor, Dr. Ro discusses this unusual form of synesthesia

3. The American Synesthesia Association

A non-profit organization, The American Synesthesia Association, Inc., was created in 1995 by Carol Steen and Patricia Lynne Duffy to provide information to synesthetes and to further research into the area of synesthesia. The website consists of a plethora of resources related to synesthesia, some of which are mentioned below…

4. Survival of the Synesthesia Gene: Why do People Hear Colors and Taste Words?

The two psychology professors at University of California, San Diego discuss synesthesia and how it may be passed down through genes. Their report is left open ended, and they pose a variety of questions that still need to be answered. Some examples of the questions are:

  • Can synesthesia actually enhance sophisticated and abstract mental abilities?
  •  What is the relationship between inherited synesthisas and acquired conditions and phenomena that produce similar experiences?
  • Does synesthesia exist in animals?

This website is comprises of useful links to web-based discussion forums where synaesthetes and non-synaesthetes can share information and contact researchers conducting experimental investigations in order to further our understanding of synaesthesia.

7. New York Creative Art Therapists

Art Spa is a studio space in Williamsburg. It is a creative space open to the community that encourages groups of like minded people to come together and inspire each other through creative ideas and discussions. It is not art therapy per se, but I could perhaps visit the centre and talk to some of the employees to understand how the system works.

8. Visting Art Therapy

Visiting art therapy in New York City allows one to discover the power of creativity in his/her own home. Alice Landry, the founder of Visiting art Therapy is a certified art therapist who holds art therapy sessions at the patient’s home.

9. Psychotherapy through art

Giora Carmi is a life-long artist and board-certified art therapist. While studying energy healing, he discovered he had been using a form of energy healing his entire life: Intuitive Flow. Intuitive Flow uses the creation of art to reveal and conquer inner barriers. The creation of art has been used for a very long time as a vehicle for revealing deep truths about a person; however, when done clinically, this was often accompanied by psychoanalysis. Intuitive Flow in itself indentifies and breaks down subconscious constructs that cause pain and suffering, without the traditional use of psychoanalysis.

10.  Joan Mitchell, Lady Painter: A Life.

This is the first full-scale biography of the painter Joan Mitchell (1925-1992), a synesthete who had colored letters, colored sound, personality-color synesthesia, and emotionally mediated synesthesia. The book sounds fascinating, and is available at the NYU Bobst Library.

Report of activities [02/28 – 03/07]

While balancing schoolwork and midterms this week, I have not been as productive in collecting information as I hoped I would be. I have managed to research a good amount of information online thus collecting more sources. However I wasn’t able to conduct formal interviews. I did however contact certain people I had in mind. While I got responses from some, I am still waiting on the others. This will be pushed further during the next week in Spring break, where I will begin formal interviews and field research.

1. Pooja Varier, 20, University of Wales (Psychology Major)

A high school friend of mine, Pooja is currently finishing her undergraduate degree in Psychology in England. I was hoping she would be able to throw light on some aspect of color psychology or synesthesia. I emailed her asking her if she had learnt anything about the topic before sending her a formal email or setting up a phone interview. She replied saying that one of her lectureures mentioned synesthesia in a module called “Neuropsychology of Vision”. However, they unfortunately did not delve into the topic, and all she had to say was that “its something to do with perceiving stimuli through a different sense than from the sense you are supposed to perceive it from”.

2. Reshma Stafford, 47, Widener University (Psy. D, Clinical Psychology)

An aunt of mine, Reshma Stafford has been studying Clinical Psychology for the past decade, and has even worked at various clinics in the East Coast. Currently pursuing her Psy.D in Clinical Psychology and balancing family life, it is extremely hard to catch her on a day where she has time to talk, even if I just want to keep in touch! I approached her in the same way I did Pooja – I sent her an e-mail explaining my research topic and asked her if she would have substantial information to share. In her reply she said to call her this weekend to discuss it further as she feels she has some information that might be helpful.  While the email was short, I hope the phone conversation will be fruitful.

3. Joanne Pereira, early 30s, Jam Jar

Currently working at the Jam Jar in Dubai, Joanne Pereira taught me art during high school. I have e-mailed her asking her if she knows anything related to color psychology, art therapy or synesthesia. I am still awaiting her reply.

4. I have casually asked my friend’s if they knew anything about the psychology of color and if they are aware of synesthesia, or know anyone who has it. I haven’t got any positive responses yet.

5. Sunday in the Park with George

Sunday in the Park with George is a 1983 musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine. The musical was inspired by the painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat. It is a complex work revolving around a fictionalized Seurat immersed in single-minded concentration while painting his masterpiece and the people in that picture.

The movie was mentioned in class last week. So far I have only read about it online. The movie sounds intresting and could perhaps focuses on art and one’s psychology, thus relating to my topic. The movie is available on Amazon, and I plan to watch it the coming week.

6. Ariel Churi, Professor, Parsons the New School for Design

This Wednesday, I will discuss my topic with my design professor to see if he can throw light on the topic, or give me ideas as to how I can go about further researching this.


Reflections on Narrative

When we first got the assignment to create a narrative, I was apprehensive for I didn’t know what was expected.   After reading various articles about color psychology and synesthesia, I felt the best way to present the case would be through the words of an individual diagnosed with the neurological disorder. Thus, I chose to write a first person narrative of a young man who had been hiding under a shell till he finally decided it was time to break through.

I think the first person narrative was extremely successful, for it allowed readers to empathize with the victim.  Even when I was writing out the narrative, I got a whiff of what it might be like to be in the shoes of synesthete. The positive feedback I received from my peers and professor was reassuring. I think the key to my “poignant” (one of the words a peer used to describe my narrative) was the inclusion of fairly real life visions or sensations a synesthete may have – this made the narrative more real and almost made the reader (or perhaps in this case, listener) able to feel the sensation.

The first person narrative was definitely more stirring than an objective story. After hearing a third person narrative in class, I was happy with my decision for I didn’t connect as much hearing about a “him” rather than another “me”.

Although I was more than satisfied with the outcome of my narrative, I could have perhaps gone a step further regarding creativity. After hearing the narratives of my peers, I jotted down various other ways that I could have expressed the thoughts of a synesthete.

1. Poem: Two of my classmates wrote poems and songs about their research topics. I felt this was extremely successful for while it still expresses emotion, it is slightly more abstract, thus making the topic or feeling more mysterious.  Although challenging, a poem written (hypothetically) by a synesthete would allow the writer to creatively use various figurative language such as methaphors, similes, hyperboles and juxtaposition to delineate and personify the experience of various sensations.

I particularly liked Brianna’s use of staccato sentences in her narrative. Staccato phrases help increase the pace of a written piece of work and can also create mystery and suspense. I thought her narrative was great for although short, it was moving. And its short length made it even more meaningful for all that was to be said was comprised into concise sentences.

2. Diary entry: I think a diary entry of an individual would also be a successful way to record one’s experiences. The content of a diary entry wouldn’t deviate too much from my current narrative. However, I could have broken it down into multiple diary entries, with different experiences recorded on different days. Or perhaps recorded the development of the phone conversation over a period of time. The style of a diary entry would be more casual and more reflective, and perhaps easier to write.

3. Moth diaries: When thinking of different ways to create a first person narrative, the idea of a moth story crossed my mind.  The envisioned situation would be a storyteller narrating his experience with synesthesia to an audience at The Moth.

4. Stories before narratives : I liked Amanda’s approach of drawing up narratives after interviewing the people concerned with her project. This was effective for the narratives were first hand and not from her imagination of what the situation may be like.

5. Script: I think one of the most interesting narratives in our class was the script. This was definitely something I would have probably not thought of. It was refreshing to hear something different. The idea works great when there is scope for conversation or interaction between two or more people. I’m not sure if  a script would have worked well in my case, for I’m not sure who the second character would be. Perhaps I could have a ‘normal’ person trying to understand the view of a synesthete. Or perhaps I could create a monologue.

While a script could be just text, such as perhaps a dialogue in a play or a movie, it could also be visual, such as creating a comic strip.

I think a plethora of creative stimulating methods of expressing one’s idea or research topic exist.  This definitely urges me to look for inspiration all around me.  If we do not have a formal option of creating another narrative, I could perhaps later present my collated interviews in one or more of the forms mentioned above.