Color is everywhere you look and influences us all on a daily basis, but how often do you really think about its origins and effects?
Color influences us all on a basic even primeval way. It influences our mood, helps us learn and navigate the world around us.
So What Is Color?
The Oxford Dictionary defines color as ‘the property possessed by an object of producing different sensations on the eye as a result of the way it reflects or emits light.”
Our understanding of light and color is a result of a series of experiments carried out by scientist Sir Isaac Newton in 1666. He was the first to identify that when pure white light is passed through a prism it separates into its component colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet.
Further experiments identified that each of these component colors has a single wavelength which cannot be separated further. However, colors can be combined to create new colors, for example red and yellow light to create orange, or cancel each other out, for example combing yellow and purple light will revert back to white light.
Sir Isaac Newton explained the science behind the natural wonder of rainbows. As a rainbow is formed when the sun shines on falling rain. The raindrops refract the light and then reflects it back, creating the rainbow.
How Do We See Color?
If all white light, no matter whether it’s been generated by the sun or a man-made light bulb is a combination of all colors and black is the absence of all color, how do we know what color an object is?
Every surface around us reflects and absorbs the light being emitted differently and it is the light rays reflected back to our eyes which influence the color we see. For example a tomato absorbs all light except red rays, which are reflected back to our eyes for processing.
Once we understand how color is generated in the world around us, it is possible to create a logical structure to analyze and organize those colors. Color Matters identifies that there are “three basic categories of color theory that are logical and useful: The color wheel, color harmony, and the context of how colors are used.”
So, how does color make you feel? Do you feel calm and relaxed in a blue room? Energized and invigorated in a red one?
Psychology researchers Andrew Elliot and Markus Maier identify that “given the prevalence of color, one would expect color psychology to be a well-developed area, (yet) surprisingly, little theoretic or empirical work has been conducted to date on the influence of color on psychological functioning.”
Despite this the concept of color psychology has become an important area of discussion in marketing, design and education.
Of course, your reactions to color are deeply personal and based on your own experiences and cultural believes. However, there are some effects which have universal meaning, for example red evoking feelings of warmth and comfort and blue colors evoking feelings of calmness or sadness.
Color in Healthcare
The impact of color is now also being recognized within the healthcare industry, with increasing “acceptance that the healthcare environment can have a significant impact on a patient’s perception of their medical care and, in some cases, on their actual recovery.”
In their paper “Transforming the healing environment: Choosing colors and products that make a difference for patients” paint specialist, Dulux identify that “Color in a healthcare environment should do much more than just make the building look attractive. Well-chosen decor can contribute positively to the creation of an environment in which patients can feel comfortable and at ease.” However, color not only affects how patients feel, it can also have an impact on diagnosis.
For example patients at risk of low oxygen levels or cyanosis present with blue or purple skin coloration. It is now accepted that reflections from colours in treatment rooms can impact diagnosis of skin tone. With reflection from yellow surfaces minimizing observation of blue skin tone, while reflection from blue surfaces can unnaturally enhance cyanotic tone.
In the same way, yellow or blue surfaces can also affect early diagnosis of babies with liver disease, who present with yellowing of the skin, more difficult.
Chromatherapy, takes this a step further and is the principle that certain colors are infused with healing powers. With each of the seven colors of the rainbow having the ability to improve balance and healing in the mind and body. Practitioners often use this form of therapy alongside hydrotherapy and aromatherapy to enhance the healing effect.
According to colorconnections.com, the psychological properties of these colors are as follows:
Red raises blood temperature and stimulates circulation. Red is used to care for people with anemia, fatigue, paralysis, and exhaustion.
Blue is soothing. It is used for cases of inflammatory conditions, burns, and bruises. It also helps with eczema, psoriasis, rashes, and sores. In addition, blue helps alleviate tension, stress, and problems with the immune system. It is believed to relieve insomnia, anxiety, high blood pressure, migraines, and skin irritation.
Yellow is used to aid digestion as well as the liver and intestine process. Yellow is thought to have decongestant and antibacterial properties to act as a cleanser for the body. It has been known to help relieve rheumatism and arthritis.
Green creates balance and harmony within the body. It is especially good for heart and blood problems. It is known to influence the human cell structure and muscles.
Orange gives vitality to the body and is associated with the kidneys, urinary tract, and reproductive organs.
Purple is associated with the eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. It helps with head congestion and sinuses, and is known to calm the nervous system.
Considering it’s prevalence in our world and the impact it has on our daily lives, the importance of color cannot be ignored.
“Mere color, unspoiled by meaning, and unallied with definite form, can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways.”
We are still only just starting to explore the full benefits of color on health, our mood and well-being.