How we see the world shapes who we choose to be — and sharing compelling experiences can frame the way we treat each other, for the better. This is a powerful perspective.
Upon relocating to Milwaukee from New York City last year, I bought my first house — a 120-year-old fixer-upper. I was thrilled, but there was one feature that bothered me more than anything else on my list of items to repair or replace: the off-white color of the walls.
After years of renting low-budget apartments that were drowning in neutral tones, I ached for brighter hues, and not just for aesthetic reasons.
As someone who’s struggled with depression and anxiety for 15 years, I frequently notice the positive and negative effects that color has on my emotions.
Blue makes me feel calm, too much red makes me feel tense and agitated, and monotonous whitewashed colors — like the ones on the walls of my former flats — make me feel uninspired or even glum.
Colour’s effect on our mood
As it turns out, I’m not alone in having strong responses to color. While we don’t always think of interior design as something related to our well-being, research shows that color can affect our mood, energy levels, and choices.
THE POWER OF COLOUR Colour scientist and consultant, Leslie Harrington, PhD, states that even when we’re not consciously thinking about the shades of our surroundings, color can still influence us, especially if it’s a bold, saturated hue.
“Colour can absolutely impact a person’s behavior and the way they think or feel,” Harrington states. “When you walk into a red, pink, or blue room, we can see measured impact on heart rate, for example. It’s an involuntary bodily reaction.”
Still, no one experiences one hue exactly the same way. Harrington notes, “From a psychological standpoint, not all of us have the same associations with different colors.”
In fact, our varying perceptions of color are formed through universal, cultural, and personal experiences.
Red is universally associated with love, for example. Also, every country maintains unique cultural traditions with color: South Koreans wear white to funerals, while many Western cultures wear dark colors.
There isn’t one “right” shade for everyone even if they share similar traits, like depression, anxiety, or other health issues. Still, given that the study of the psychology of color has existed for decades, there’s some general consensus.
As early as the 1880s, Florence Nightingale discussed the importance of implementing varied and “brilliant” colors in hospitals in order to improve patients’ moods and health outcomes.
Several decades later, in 1950, color expert Faber Birren wrote about how some blues and greens can act like sedatives, or even be hypnotic.
And in the 1960s, researchers painted rooms in prisons across the country with a lucid shade of pink in order to study its effects on inmates. The color, later named “Baker-Miller Pink,” was shown to reduce aggressive and violent behaviors, as well as lower blood pressure and heart rate.