Skip to main content

Color Psychology

Lesson 23 from: How to Dress Better and Improve Your Life

Jennifer Baumgartner

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2000+ more >

Lesson Info

23. Color Psychology

Lesson Info

Color Psychology

Color psychology can also apply to your interiors and also how you might respond to the color in your natural environment. So the first color we're gonna examine today is red. We're gonna go into more depth about red later on, but I'm just gonna do a brief outline of red. So red has both a physiological and psychological impact on us. Red makes our heart race. Red usually creates alertness. It wakes us up. We often associate red with sexuality, increased reproductivity. So red has an impact on us. It also increases our appetite so if you wanna serve something in a red plate, you might find that people each more (laughs). You might go into restaurants that are painted in red, kind of like a dark, moody red, and it might be to increase our appetites when we go there. The next color is orange. So orange, and this is again, just to clarify, many of these colors have cultural associations so I'm talking about really a Western understanding of the colors and what it does to us. These, the ef...

fects that color have on us both physiologically and psychologically are often learned and they change depending on what culture we are studying. So I'm talking about primarily Western culture, United States. Orange. So, orange for us, what does orange make us feel? Well, we're coming around to that time of year, the fall, when we have our trees turning orange and burnt reds and things like that. So, orange will make us feel cozy, comfortable. It elicits feelings of the harvest. The holidays, so holidays will start. You'll notice you walk into the store and everything is orange. Our fall clothing is often like oranges, reds, and they mimic the color of the changing environment. Our trees. The next color is yellow. Yellow increases our concentration in small amounts so if we're studying and we wear yellow or we're in a yellow room, we might actually attend more to what we're studying, to increase our concentration, but yellow, if we have too much exposure to yellow or the yellow's too bright, think about a neon yellow room, like a highlighter color room, we are not gonna attend, we might actually fee anxious. So it's a little too much. So we think about using the highlighter, that neon yellow, helps us attend and concentrate to what we're seeing. If the entire book was written in yellow, or the background was in neon yellow, it might be a little overwhelming to us to be able to process the color in our eyes. The next colors are green and blue. Now, those two combined make us feel comfortable and calm, and when we go to doctor's office, we're not gonna find a bright yellow office or a hot pink office. We're usually gonna find offices where we're getting examined, where we might be a little nervous, in a green, a soothing green or a soothing blue. So when you think about it, green and blue is usually what we see in our environment, kind of our untouched natural environment. The green of the grass, the greens of the fields, greens of our leaves and our trees. We see green all the time in nature. We also see blue, so we look at blue in the sky, we look at blue in our oceans. And when you think about when we look at our planet from a space perspective, what do we see? What are our colors? Green and blue (laughs). We're the green and blue planet! Mars is the red planet! Jupiter is multi-colored with stripes with a red dot, the storm, but our planet is green and blue. So I wonder and I don't know how much, there hasn't really been any research on why these are comforting colors. I would assume it's just something that brings us back to nature and kind of the understanding of what is calming, what is serene, what is natural and what is our planet at its very purist form. So green, green has the feeling of relaxation. It also makes us feel like there's energy, growth, harvest. What is the color of money? Green, right? So it's not just a growth in nature. When we talk into a field, we know that things are growing in the spring time because everything's green, but money, when it's growing is also green, right? So we're gonna see more green. So it's really interesting how we kinda made money the color green which is the color of growth and kind of increased production. And we also look at the color blue, one of the other majorly repetitive occurring colors in our planet and we have this colorful lady over here in a blue background, so blue also has a comforting, it creates a comforting feeling within us and blue, again, is calm, it's relaxed. It usually makes us feel serene, but when we say we're sad, what color do we feel? Blue! So it's kinda strange. I don't know why we say we're feeling the blues or the music, blues, 'cause when you think about it, blue is often a very serene color for us, but we've somehow associated the blues, feeling the blues or writing the blues, singing the blues as a sadness. So it's kind of interesting that blue has that dichotomy to it. Another color that has a really strong dichotomy is purple. I think somebody mentioned here they liked purple? Was there a previous, okay, she's not here. She did mention it. So, purple's another really fascinating color and it actually, we're looking at socioeconomic status and hierarchy like class systems with purple. So Paul Fussell is an author who wrote the book Class and he noticed that people who had lower SES or were deemed in the lower class system in the United States, like the color purple more than those who were kind of in the upper-middle. But on the other hand, if we think about royalty, robes, we represent royalty and religious ceremonies. We represent royalty in you know, government, like monarchy ceremonies people wear the royal purple. So why is that on the one hand, purple represents a lower SES or lower class but on the other hand, it's also used in royal engagements and high level religious ceremonies. So again, an interesting disconnect between how we associate those colors, what they mean to us. White, white is a fascinating one. White, you know, has all the colors. When we bend white light in a prism, we see all the colors of the rainbow. So it's all of it together. White also reflects heat. So we're not gonna wear black in the summer time, we're gonna wear white because it kind of helps us keep cool and dry. White also has this connection with our socioeconomic status, especially in the earlier days, in the Victorian era, in the 1800s and early 1900s. You could only wear white if you could afford to wear white because when you wore white, it means that you weren't in the mud, you weren't scrubbing anything, you weren't getting white dirty. It also meant that you could afford to lose the clothing piece, so if you got it dirty, you might be able to give it away. You also could afford to have a staff to clean your clothes for you. So it was a really interesting indicator of a class system when you wear white. Sometimes that has carried over. So when you think about tennis whites, you know, different times when you wear white. White also means purity, it means cleanliness, it means innocent. When you look at movies, the villain is not wearing white. The villain is wearing black and the, you know, fairy godmother is wearing white or kind of a frothy pink, it's light. So that's what we look at when we look at the color white. When we look at the color black, it usually, it's the absence of color, it usually absorbs the heat. When we think about black in movies, the villain is wearing black, we've got Dracula, we've got Darth Vader. Usually we don't have villains that are wearing white. It doesn't really happen. When you even look at Lord of the Rings, when Gandalf was Gandalf the Gray, as he got even better, he was Gandalf wearing white. So, I love Lord of the Rings. There, I said it! (laughs) But it's interesting how that costume is used to show how he got actually kind of higher up in his abilities, he was able to wear white and when he came back, he was wearing a different color than gray. So then we, and then as you get more evil, you're more likely to wear black. But then on the other hand, black is very sophisticated. So we have the little black dress. It's something that we use to be, you know, a little more glamorous. We often wear that at night. What's the sure thing for ladies to wear at a cocktail party? Black! What do we wear when men wear suits? A tuxedo, a dark suit. So black also has this really interesting association of sophistication for us. And it's also kind of fun to look at the history of our characters in movies and how, first black was used as pure evil and then as our villains became more sophisticated psychologically, they weren't just bad, but they had deeper meanings to their badness, we could learn more about the psychology behind it. We noticed that they also used black in a sophisticated way, so as a character becomes more sophisticated in black, they wear it in a different way but they still wear black. So it's interesting to look at our associations with those colors. So those are our colors in general, yeah. You know of any research that looks at wavelengths, that each color has its wavelengths and how it affects our system, our bodies and our psyche versus the arbitrary things like you've chosen like you know, good wears white, evil wears black, or this is royal and not royal. Yeah, so it's physiology, it's a physiological response so when we're looking at a color, it's really the reflected wave, it's a reflection so when we see the color red, we know our hearts race so there's a physiological response to the frequency that comes to us as red. When we look at our yellow, yellow can cause anxiety and agitation, so we do have a response. I haven't seen a study where they're showing each and every color and measuring the perspiration of the skin, the heartbeat, the pupil dilation, I have not seen that. It sounds like you've got a dissertation topic on your hands there (laughs) And then the other thing is you were saying black is, you know, reproduction and so forth, but a stop sign is also red, so just kind of, you want to reproduction or you wanna stop? Which one is it? Right, so there's a paradox there. But the reason why it's red is that we see it, it's bright, and we actually attend to red. We like red. So that's why red often has a sexual connotation. Not just so we attend to it but also it, and we'll come to that right now actually. It also mimics the sexual flesh. But also we attend to red and maybe it's because for us, it does have some kind of underlying sexual fertility meaning. So let's go to the color red. Oh, red. Now, Amy, you asked me about talking to your clients when you're taking pictures of them, and they ask for dating websites, what color they should wear? Let's talk about red (laughs). All right, so, there are a million studies about the color red, and for whatever reason, red has been most researched and maybe it is because there's a sexual component to it and we wanna find out more about that. So, before I go to red, though, any application that you can find in your own life with these colors, do you feel like you have been using color strategically? Do you feel like, you've learned about this and yeah, maybe you might incorporate a color into your life because of those reasons and it doesn't have to be with fashion, maybe it's just with your interiors, things like that. Are any of you putting out fall pillows or orange? You know, leaves or anything like that. So how are you using color right now? Well, what I was thinking is when you're talking about colors and how it affects, they say even somebody who's never been able to see before when they do something great, they raise their hands up. It's just the way that's innate in us. So I'm wondering if somebody cannot see and if you send red wavelengths to them, do they invoke those feelings if they can't see? Or if they don't know anything about the colors? They may not be able to, so it's somebody who's colorblind who can't really process the colors. Or even blind. If you bombard them with some of these colors with different wavelengths, will it invoke those type of feelings in them? Okay, so it's about the ability to perceive it, does it create an impact? So are we giving those meanings to these colors or is the wavelength of those colors that create those kinds of feelings? Think it's both. I think it's the perception of the color and I also think it's the association with the color. Red definitely has a perception and an association so let's talk about red. First, we studied red when men wear it. So, Elliot and Kaiser and colleagues in at the University of Rochester studied the power of red. And his results show that when a women looked at men who stood in a red background, they found the man more attractive. Now, the color did not affect men looking at other men, despite their sexual orientation. In other experiments, men wore the color red and they were rated as higher social status and with higher potential for success. So we, as women, like men in the color red and standing next to the color red. So what we found, why is this? That there's a link between sexual attractiveness and wearing red and because men are sexually attractive when they wear red, they must be of higher social status. Now we have women wearing red. I think all your clients are gonna be wearing red after this talk (laughs). Okay, Elliot and Niesta in 2008 found that men reported a higher sexual attraction toward a woman dressed in red compared to a woman dressed in another other color. Men also wanted to spend more money on a woman wearing red. Honey, I'm wearing red when I come home (laughs). All right, so in 2012, a study also looked at 272 restaurant customers and this was research done by Nicolas Gueguen and Celine Jacobs and they found that when male patrons were with waitresses that wore red, they gave them higher tips than waitresses who wore white. To waitresses out there, put on your red outfit 'cause you're getting higher tips. Schwartz and Singer of the University of Dortmund in Germany, so this just wasn't the United States, showed that there is something called a red effect and what that means is that red works to have men pay attention to you and tip you more and do more things for you when you're younger, but unfortunately, as you age, as women, when you wear red, you do not have the same effect. Not liking that one bit, but that is what happens. So young men and young, young men and older men, they don't lose their red effect, but as women age, red does not have the same effect on men anymore, and is that real or is that simply an association we have to older women? Who knows? I would like to look at that more further. All right, there's another assessment done by Paza, Elliott and Griesemer and they found that men perceive women in red as more sexually receptive and they perceive women who are more sexually receptive as more sexually attractive. So if you're wearing red, men are gonna look at you and find you more attractive. Now, if you get older, unfortunately, that red effect goes away. Nicolas Gueguen also found that men attribute higher levels of sexual readiness to women that are wearing red. So not only do they believe you're not attractive, it's because they think you're more sexually ready and that's why they find your more attractive. Kaiser, Elliot and Feltman found that men directed more intimate questions toward women in red because they felt that if they wore red, it was totally kind of a subconscious thing that women must be more sexually ready. And they were therefore more sexually attractive. Men chose to sit closer to women who wore red than women in other colors and the effect remains significant even when the researchers control from impact of other factors such as the man's mood, his arousal and the attractiveness of the woman. Powerful, the power of red. They say the lady in red. Well, yeah. The lady in red is gonna get better tips and she's gonna have men sitting more closely to her. He's gonna assess that she's more sexually ready and he's gonna find her more sexually attractive. Elliot and Paza also did another research test. They looked at internet dating websites. They found that women who wore red were more likely to be on hookup sites rather than sites looking for relationships. They also found that women expressing interest in casual sex on their websites were wearing what color? Red (laughing). I'm so glad I didn't wear red today. And according to results, women who dress in red are twice as likely to describe themselves as interested in casual sex than women wearing any other color. I think you got some information for your clients. (laughs) Okay, so what's the summary of all this? What could we learn? Men judge women as more attractive, higher in social status. Actually, I'm sorry. Men are, judge women as more attractive when they're wearing red and more sexual. Women think men are of higher social status and more successful when they're wearing red or near red. Men are more, yes. So if you're creating something, like a video, with a red background, a man would be able to bring their point across better? We'll have to test that our in your class. Technically, statistically speaking, they would see you as more successful because they would find your more sexually attracted, attractive behind or around something red, yes, and if you wore red and were behind red, we don't know what's gonna happen (laughs). Kind of washed out, though. Or, you know, it could be overwhelming for people so you have to kinda look at the effect of red. It's also interesting 'cause we have the red carpet. I don't know, why is that? Who knows. It's really interesting to look at the color red. It gives you a glow. Like it reflects and gives you a glow. And you've answered the question why, 100%. It's really that red makes you look healthier because it's like, the color to your cheeks, the color to your, you know, your skin and it looks like you are physically active. It also kinda mimics a sexual flush so when men and women are aroused physically, areas of their body become filled with blood. I don't need to go into details. I hope you all have taken Sexuality 101, but, you know, the genitalia, the nipples, different areas of your body become filled with blood. They become more, it's a vascularized kind of areas and we become more physically flushed. You might have flushed around your chest area so we know that red happens when a person is sexually aroused and sexually ready so it makes sense that when a man is looking at a woman, it's just this innate kind of instinctual thing that when they see this vascularization, this reddening, the sexual flush, they just subconsciously think she's ready, she's ready to go. And when a woman looks at a man, they also feel the same way so it's a very normal thing. It's gonna happen, yeah. So you're not looking at that color red itself. It's the reflection that it puts on the person because when men wear ties you say they wear the red tie to bring the attention to the face. You're not looking at the red, it's the reflection that it creates that takes your attention. Well, there's a couple of things with the tie. Okay, so there's this Freudian assessment of the tie. That the tie is merely a phallus. So is the shape of the tie or is the color of the tie? And we don't know. So, we don't know if red, just for whatever reason, makes us feel excited. It's very well that it could be just a color or it could be the color and then it's the color attached to the person really gets us going. That seems to be what the studies are saying.

Ratings and Reviews

Yolanda Azpiazu

Loved it! Incredible class, so interesting and filled with new concepts, I am a big fan of the author and I admire her for the way she suggests us to analyse things with curiosity and looking "bellow the water", rather than judgement. Thank you so much for this wonderful class Dr. Baumgartner.

a Creativelive Student

It's about how you dress, but really, it's about how to use the way you dress as a lens to better understand yourself. Packed with useful information and tips, highly recommend! Thanks Jenny!

Student Work