What is the purpose of color? We see color everywhere, every day, but what is the meaning behind color? What exactly, does color symbolize?
Colors are used for many reasons. It can impact how an individual, or a group — reacts to information, a person, or even a product.
Color can inform much of our decisions, and this tends to be an unconscious act.
Most people tend to have a reaction to color, and while everyone has an individual reaction, colors are known to evoke a certain mood, emotion, or action in individuals.
A color is a powerful tool, and it can be used to positively, or negatively, influence how we experience the world.
In this article, we discuss the meaning of color, and the impact symbolization has had on color. This article will benefit anyone who is interested in color therapy, or how color affects humans.
Where Do Color Meanings Come From?
The meaning of color stems from psychology, as well as color symbolism.
In psychology, psychologists study how color impacts the behavior, emotions, and feelings of people’s behavior.
Color symbolism is a term used to describe how colors are symbolic, which means that people will have a preconceived notion about a certain color.
It is better to think about color with regard to cultural symbolism. This is because in each culture, color can symbolize different things.
So you need to be specific about what culture you are referring to when you discuss color symbolism.
In this article, we will be discussing western color symbolism, but we will also make references to eastern color symbolism.
Color has a huge impact on the feelings, emotions, and mood of a person.
Studies have shown that seeing a color, can influence the feelings, emotions, mood, and even attitude of an individual. Most responses to color are unconscious.
This means that many people do not consciously realize that color is affecting the way they feel, or the attitude they are exhibiting.
One of the most influential figures in color psychology was Carl Jung.
Carl Jung was a psychiatrist, who believed that color therapy was an effective tool to help patients express deep parts of their psyche. Jung believed that the selection of color reflects a deeper meaning about an individual’s state.
He also believed that color therapy could be an effective tool in helping individuals recover from trauma, or deal with distress.
Furthermore, in psychology, the selection of color can reflect an individual’s state of mind, or reference an aspect of their personality.
A very common thought experiment is to simply consider the type of colors you would wear, or associate, with certain moods.
Now, it could be that this has never been a thought that crossed your mind before. However, if you reflect, it is very likely that you have worn certain colors when you were in a certain mood or trying to reflect a certain mood.
For example, the color red is very striking. Red is usually an example of boldness, passion, or strength.
Someone who is feeling quite upset, anxious, and depressed, may naturally choose to reject the color red, and instead opt for a color that is less intense, and more relaxing, such as a pale green.
The good news is, that once someone becomes aware of how they react to colors, they can gain a little more control over how they react to the color.
It may just be that, occasionally, they will realize that color is having an influence on them — and other times, this may be redirected to the unconscious mind.
Other times, someone may work intentionally to bring more of a one-color to their life, and less of another.
For example, if someone finds the color red to be a very frustrating color because it makes them feel angry, they can introduce less red to their life.
Likewise, if someone found the color pink to be relaxing, and helps them feel calmer, they can further introduce the color pink to their life.
In this way, the individual is using color to their advantage, by building a world of color that affects their emotions positively.
Color symbolism also has a big impact on how people perceive color. Color symbolism can equally impact someone’s emotions, feelings, and attitudes.
Likewise, color symbolism means that color has a symbolic representation or meaning. Color symbolism is impacted by a group’s culture and society.
Time is also a huge factor, as, throughout the centuries, the meaning behind certain colors has changed.
During the 5th century, and up until around the 17th century, religion had a huge impact on the symbolic nature of color.
This is because religion had a big influence over society, and colors were a way of connecting with religion and referred to a different aspect of existence.
For example, the color white symbolizes purity, and the color blue symbolizes the heavens.
In the USA, Great Britain, and Australia, white is still a strong symbol of purity. In India and other eastern countries, white is also viewed as a color of purity.
However, the west no longer views the color blue as symbolic of the heavens. Instead, blue is symbolized as the color of justice, and perseverance. Likewise, in India, the color blue is linked to bravery.
Another cultural influence on color symbolism is the use of signs. In America, red is associated with passion, but it is also associated with warnings.
Most warning signs in America are red, and it’s typical knowledge that a ‘red button’ should not be pushed.
However, in Malaysia — the color green is symbolized as a dangerous color, as it is used on warning signs. In contrast, green is considered a very peaceful and natural color in America.
This all means that society has influenced how people view and react to colors. Colors are symbolic and can evoke different emotions, feelings, and attitudes in people.
Every color has a different meaning, and every color, and shade of color, evokes a different response.
Everyone experiences color differently, but studies show that on average, people react in particular ways, to particular colors.
A red wall might generate some anxiety, as it seems hazardous — whereas a white wall may generate much less anxiety, due to its symbolic relation to purity, which is peaceful.
However, it is incorrect to argue that everyone has the same response to a particular color. This is very untrue, as everyone has a different experience of color.
It does mean, however, that on average, it is very easy to predict how someone might react to color.
In fact, color symbolism and color psychology combined can discover a very accurate way of predicting how people may react to colors.
Why Do Colors Have Different Meanings?
Life is not black and white.
Everyone has a different reaction to color. While people are definitely impacted by color psychology, and while people are definitely impacted by color symbolism, it is fair to say that people still have their own perspective.
There are a number of factors that can impact how color is viewed. People may view the same color very differently. Below are a few reasons why people may perceive the same color differently:
An individual’s personal experience with color can influence whether they see the color positively, or negatively. It can also influence the type of emotion that the individual experiences when they see that color.
For example, if someone was bullied in school, and their bully always wore a navy blue jacket, the person may grow up to hate the color navy blue.
In fact, the person may find that the color navy blue makes them feel scared, or anxious.
This may not even be a conscious reaction. It is very possible that the memory of the bully wearing a blue jacket is stored in the unconscious mind.
The individual may not understand why they have a negative reaction to the color navy blue, and yet, they continue to hate the color navy blue.
The opposite can also be true.
For example, an individual may have a grandma that always wore the color orange. The individual may not like the color orange very much, but they may feel happy, or nostalgic, whenever they see the color orange.
This is because the color has an association with a memory, and in this case, the association is someone who the individual viewed in a very positive way.
This is a major reason why everyone will experience color, somewhat, differently.
Sex And Gender
The sex and gender of a person can influence how that individual perceives color.
A person’s sex refers to whether they are biologically male, or biologically female.
Gender is a socially constructed term used to refer to the socially constructed characteristics of males, and females — usually in the form of behaviors, gender roles, identity, and expression.
Gender has a major impact on how the world views colors. Furthermore, gender norms state that certain colors are male, whereas certain colors are female.
While this is not technically true, after all, color has no gender — the impact that gender has on color cannot be ignored.
For example, gender norms have impacted how people view the colors pink, and blue.
Pink is associated with girls. Pink is viewed as a very feminine color. It is a color considered for just girls, and not boys.
The opposite is true with blue. Blue is viewed as a very masculine color. It is a color considered for just boys, and not for girls.
This means that as people grow older, they have a personal bias to color, and the bias depends on the gender they identify with.
For example, someone who identifies as a woman, may dislike the color blue, or feel indifferent to the color blue. Someone who identifies as a man may like the color blue, and feel connected to the color blue.
While this is not the reality of every person, gender has a huge impact on how color is perceived, and why color has different meanings.
Another reason why color has different meanings is that the same color can mean different things, in different contexts.
For example, if a man gifted a woman a red rose, then it is a clear symbol of love and passion. It is very clear that in this situation, the color red was used as it is a symbol of passion.
However, if someone received a letter, and there was writing in the color red printed on the letter, the person would become very worried.
This is because the color red is used in a different context, and the color red also has a different meaning — danger.
How someone views color depends on the context.
Meaning Of Colors
As you should now understand, every color has a different meaning. More than that, every color has a different meaning in every culture and can have several meanings, within a single culture.
Plus, there are many factors that influence the meaning of a color. The context, the gender of the person, and the personal experiences of someone can influence the meaning of a color.
With that said, there is a cultural understanding of colors, and there is a moderate knowledge of how colors are viewed.
This means even though everyone has their own experience with color, people understand what that color symbolizes in their culture (color symbolism), as well as the emotions that are linked to a particular color (color psychology).
Below are a few examples of the meaning of colors.
- Red: The color red can reflect passion. Red is linked to relationships, as it reflects intimacy between people. Likewise, red is a very bold color that can motivate people to take action. Red is also a color that is used as a warning sign and can be viewed as a color for danger.
- Orange: The color orange reflects warmth and joy. Orange is considered to be a very happy and fun color, that is optimistic and uplifting. This color can be seen as motivating, as well as energizing. It is considered to be a very positive color.
- Blue: The color blue reflects the notions of trust, and of loyalty. Blue is viewed as a very strong, and reliable color. Blue is said to be a very calming color and is a peaceful color. However, the color blue can also be used to show sadness.
- Green: The color green reflects health and harmony. Green is a very relaxing color, as it is the color most commonly found in nature. Green is a very balanced color, which makes people feel safe. Green is also the color of hope and growth. In some cultures, like in Ireland, green is viewed as a very lucky color.
The meaning of color is very nuanced. Color is impacted by color psychology, which has shown how people react to certain colors.
Color is also impacted by color symbolism, which references how culture and society can impact how a group of people view a color.
Color is not plain and simple. How someone views a color also depends on their personal experiences, their gender, and the context of the color.
Color is a very useful tool that has been used to affect emotions for centuries.
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