10 Bizarre Ways Color Affects Your Brain

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It is no coincidence that most restaurant logos use the same two colors or that hospitals are usually staffed by nurses wearing baby blue scrubs. We’ve all experienced the effects of color, whether we’ve realized it or not.

Most psychologists agree that color affects the way we perceive certain situations. Some researchers agree that our brain innately connects colors with feelings, while others believe that the feelings we associate with each color are learned. For example, psychologists who have researched the color red agree that most people associate it with danger. This might be a general connection our brain is wired to make, or we might have learned the association between red and danger from touching that red-hot stove our mother warned us about when we were six. However, most psychologists believe that our brain interprets color for a reason and that, therefore, each color must affect us in a different way.

Here are ten colors and how each one affects your brain.

10. Red

Since we already began our discussion on red, we might as well finish it. We’ve already established that our brain associates red with danger, but there are a few other surprising facts about the way red makes us act. For example, if you are a woman, wearing red can benefit you. A study conducted in 2012 found that waitresses who wore red were tipped between 14.6 and 26.1% percent more by men compared to those wearing other colors. (Interestingly, the study found that red had no effect on the amount women tipped the waitresses.) The reason for this ties into a fact you have probably heard before: Red increases the physical and sexual attractiveness of women. So, if you are going on a hot date this weekend and want to look your best, consider wearing a bold, red lipstick or that red dress you keep in the back of your closet.

Other than raising your level of attractiveness, red can also increase the speed and strength of your reactions. A study conducted at the University of Rochester found that when humans see red, their reactions become more forceful. However, red can also affect your reactions negatively. The study also found that red increases anxiety levels, so an athlete who is competing against someone who is wearing red tends to lose, and a student who is exposed to red before an exam performs worse.

Lastly, if you have ever sold or will ever sell anything on eBay, listen up: Place your item in front of a red background if you are putting it up for auction. Researchers at the University of Chicago found that consumers tend to be more aggressive in online auctions when the objects they are bidding for are placed in front of the color red.[1] Red is known to increase aggression, so consumers are more likely to bid higher amounts this way. On the other hand, if you aren’t going to place your item up for auction and are instead going with the “Buy It Now” option, avoid red at all costs. Researchers found that consumers were less likely to buy the object (without negotiating) when the background was red.

9. Orange

Orange is an interesting color. It isn’t associated with a single feeling, but it can affect us in numerous ways. Firstly, orange is a color we tend to associate with warmth. If a room is painted orange, we are more likely to assume the temperature is higher than it actually is. Warmth tends to relax our muscles, and in a quantitative study in 1979, researchers found that orange has an “endocrine-based weakening effect on muscle functioning,” effectively relaxing us in ways we can directly measure.

Orange is also thought to be associated with good value. Stores with orange logos, such as Home Depot, are perceived as providing high-quality, low-cost goods to customers.[2] Similar to red, orange is also associated with danger, though in the case of orange, it is non-immediate danger. This could be why traffic delay signs and road hazard signs are orange.


8. Yellow

The next color on our rainbow is yellow. Yellow is associated with feelings of joy, openness, and friendliness. Color psychologists like Eiseman and Wright call yellow “the strongest color,” since it is believed to be associated with emotions, self-esteem, and creativity.[3] The emotion most commonly thought to arise from being presented with the color yellow is happiness. This is why it is associated with comedy, hope, and optimism and why we’re all so much happier on clear, sunny days.

Wait . . . could this be the reason emojis are yellow? (Mind: blown.)

7. Green

Green—the beautiful color of lavish forests, the phone app on your smartphone, and that highlighter that came in a pack of four but you never used. (If you still have that green highlighter in your pencil case, listen up and don’t throw it out!) Psychologists have found that green can increase creativity. They’ve also found that green is associated with complex thinking and higher-level thought as well as relaxation, inward focus, and calm actions.[4]

When we think of green, we think of nature and growth, so it’s not surprising that we assimilate those feelings toward ourselves by associating green with our own personal or professional growth. Thus, researchers recommend painting work spaces green, since it can make employees more productive.

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