Color Psychology: Does It Affect How You Feel?

Color Psychology: What Colors Should You Wear and Why

Color Psychology: Does It Affect How You Feel?

Color psychology is the study of how colors affect your behavior, mood and impression on others.

Can the color you wear really affect your mood? Research says yes; color can absolutely affect your mood, behavior and stress levels.

Color specialist Leatrice Eiseman says how colors affect us correlates to that colors behavior in nature. Eiseman has asked thousands of people what they think of specific colors and has found many patterns.

Colors create the same impressions for different people.

For example, the color blue is almost always associated with blue skies, which when we are children is a positive thing — it means playing outside and fun. Evolutionarily it also means there are no storms to come and good sun for crops. This is why blue reminds us of stability and calm.

She cautions that there are no magic bullet answers, but there are generalities that can be gleaned from decades of research on the patterns of what people think about each color. Your personality can also change your opinions of colors.

So, how can you pick the perfect color for each situation? the research, here is your personal color guide:

Research shows that colors can greatly affect our moods and the way other people respond to us. Amazingly, colors can even change our heart rate, blood pressure and respiration, as researchers Keith Jacobs and Frank Hustmyer discovered in 1974.

With that in mind, here’s the ultimate color guide on what color to wear.

You have different ways of thinking about colors:

You can pick the color the mood you are already in.

Or you can pick the color the mood you WANT to be in.

Here are some color ideas on what to wear:

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This color denotes freshness, safety and harmony. It’s also associated with money and the “go” signal for a traffic light—both great characteristics in the workplace. The color green is restful on the eyes and produces the least amount of eyestrain, making this a good choice for people who sit in front of a screen for many hours.

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This is the color of truth and wisdom. It also has a calming effect and is linked to intellect. It’s also the most stable color. So if you have a volatile or drama-filled workplace, blue is a great color to wear to counteract the tension.

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The color of stability, brown is also seen as masculine. If you’re a woman in a predominantly male workplace, wearing a chocolate brown suit can give you credibility.

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This power color can convey feelings of mystery and seriousness. It is also considered elegant and has a thinning effect. (And who doesn’t love that?) If you want to be treated seriously, the typical black suit with a splash of green or blue works wonders.

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This is the happiest of all the colors and usually stimulates joy. However, yellow is considered an unstable color, so it can be over-energizing for the office and make the wearer look weak.

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Grey implies that people are passive, uninvolved and have a lack of energy. If you wearing grey, pairing it with a brighter color such as blue can help offset the negative effect.

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This is the color of aggression and passion—great for a first date, not so great for the office. It also increases metabolism and raises blood pressure, which is why it’s used for stop signs and fire engines. Red can be seen as a bit hostile in the work environment, so think twice before wearing it often.

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This is a color of stimulation and enthusiasm. It’s not as aggressive as red, but can catch attention, so it’s good to wear in moderation.

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Purple reminds people of royalty and luxury. It’s also the color of magic. However, since purple rarely occurs in nature, it’s also seen to be artificial. A purple scarf, tie or purse can be a nice, subtle addition to any outfit.

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This color is associated with cleanliness and perfection. It is always a safe choice for a shirt or scarf, but too much white denotes timidity and sterility—not good for workplace relations.

Colors affect our moods and how others perceive us. But, of course, colors aren’t the only thing that affects how people see us—you can still be d at work even if you’re wearing a yellow suit. Still, when given the choice, pick a color that will work for you and not against you.

There is also some amazing color psychology research on different situations. Take a look at these interesting color ideas:

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What Color You Should Make Your Desktop?

Green. What color you choose for your desktop and the colors you choose for your website can greatly affect your productivity. The color green is restful for eyes and produces the least amount of eyestrain. This is a good choice for computer desktops if you are in front of a screen for many hours.

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What Color to Wear to Work Out?

Orange. Orange is a color of stimulation and enthusiasm. Orange is a nice mix of red’s passion and yellow’s joy. Research has found that orange increases oxygen supply to the brain, produces an energizing effect, and stimulates brain activity.

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Red. Red is the color of passion and gets blood pumping. Women can wear this to get their date’s heart racing.

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Blue. Blue is the most stable color. Women love seeing stable men. It is also calming and can help relax both you and your date’s nerves.

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What to Wear If You Want to Be Seen As Strong?

Black. Researchers examined statistics from more than 52,000 National Hockey League games and found that teams were penalized more for aggression while wearing black jerseys. (Hockey teams have two color jerseys and switch for home and away games).

Interestingly, the NHL in 2003 changed its jersey policy so that home teams had to wear white.

The authors of the study compared the sets of data and found that the same teams were assessed significantly more penalties for aggression when they wore the black jerseys than when they wore white.

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What Colors You Should Paint Your Office?

Blue and Green. In 1999, researchers at Creighton University found that colors significantly influence employees’ emotions and efficiency. Workers in blue offices felt the most centered, calm and hopeful towards their work. Since blue can lower heart rates and green reduces anxiety and is associated with money, a combination of blue and green is best for the workplace.

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What Color You Should Never Wear to Work?

Grey. Grey inspires people to be passive, uninvolved and have a lack of energy. If you wearing grey, pairing it with a brighter color will help offset the effect.

Choosing the color of your office, your clothes or your desktop should not be taken lightly — colors do affect our moods and productivity. However, colors are not the only thing that affects us — one can still be efficient in a grey suit or workout well in a black outfit. But, when given the choice, picking a color that will work with you, and not against you can only help.

What is color psychology?

Color psychology is the study of how colors affect your behavior, mood and impression on others.


  • Jacobs, Keith W. and Frank G. Hustmyer Jr. (1974), “Effects of Four Psychological Primary Colors on GSR, Heart Rate and Respiration Rate,” Perceptual and Motor Skills, 38, 763-66.
  • Color Wheel Pro. Accessed: October 31, 2012. 
  • University of Hawaii at Hilo; The Psychology of Color; Kalyan N. Meola; 2005
  • “Effects of Office Interior Color on Worker’s Mood and Productivity.” Nancy K Wallek, Carol M. Lewis, and Ann S. Robbins. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1988, 66, 123-128.
  • Birren, F. (1978). Color & Human Response. New York: John Wiley & Sons. Inc.
  • Mahnke, F. (1996). Color, environment and human response. New York: Wiley.
  • Mahnke, R. & Mahnke, F. (1993). Color and Light 1993. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Webster, G., Urland, G., & Correll, J. (2011). Can Uniform Color Color Aggression? Quasi-Experimental Evidence From Professional Ice Hockey Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3 (3), 274-281 DOI: 10.1177/1948550611418535


Cause and Effect – Exploring Color Psychology

Color Psychology: Does It Affect How You Feel?

Colors and emotions are intricately linked in ways that digital designers are only beginning to understand and take advantage of, which makes sense when you consider that color in design (particularly newspapers and magazines) has really only become widespread in the last half-century or so.

And yet, the psychological impact of color on user behavior is significant. Something as simple as changing the color of a button can increase desired behavior by double, even triple-digit percentages. Overlooking this vital component of user experience design is a huge mistake and one that’s easily avoided with a little education and research.

Good Housekeeping, one of the most iconic American magazines, started using color around 100 years ago. (Source)

What Is Color Psychology?

There has been little rigorous scientific study on the psychological effects of color. Yet color psychology is an important focus of branding and other design disciplines. Most studies on the effects of color have been done for practical reasons and primarily consist of anecdotal evidence and case studies from individual companies and designers.

Ask designers, however, if they consider the psychological effects of color on human behavior and the vast majority of them will affirm that they do. Overlooking color psychology is a quick way to ensure poor user experience and reduce the conversion rate of a website or app.

Tide’s choice of blue as their main color makes sense for a company catering to other businesses.

Why Color Affects Emotion

Why colors affect the way people feel isn’t straightforward. There are a number of elements that can influence the way a person feels when exposed to a certain color. One important factor is the personal association with a color.

If a person’s favorite stuffed animal as a child was blue, for example, then they may have a preference for blue throughout their life.

Or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, if they were hit by a blue car as a child, they might have a strong negative emotional reaction to the color blue.

However, because of universal human experiences, it’s possible to predict how the majority of people will respond to a given color. For example, green is often associated with nature and growth because most people have witnessed plants growing. Blue is almost universally calming because it’s associated with things the sky and water.

Other effects are cultural. Purple, for example, is still associated with luxury due to the fact that purple dye was prohibitively expensive and rare in many ancient cultures, and therefore only used by royalty. It’s not a natural association, per se, but it was a significant part of the cultural zeitgeist for long enough that it’s become a part of the human psyche.

Purple continued to be associated with royalty well into the 18th century, as evidenced by this portrait of Russia’s Catherine the Great.

Color’s Effect on Performance

It’s not just mood and emotions that color can affect. It can also affect performance in very real ways.

For example, in a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, researchers found that the color red negatively affected performance on a test. When participants were given a red participant number (rather than green or black), they performed 20% worse on tests than their peers. That’s a significant difference and one that can be used to influence user experience.

That doesn’t mean red will always hinder performance. In a study of athletic performance, red uniforms appear to give an advantage.

During the 2004 Olympics, athletes competing in four different sports (Greco-Roman wrestling, freestyle wrestling, boxing, and taekwondo) were randomly given either blue or red uniforms or protective gear.

The red-clad athletes won in 19 of the 29 weight classes. And similar studies among soccer matches showed a similar advantage to the teams wearing red uniforms.

The power of color is shown in how red uniforms can affect athletic performance.

This could be explained by red’s historical connotations with aggression and anger. Either the red uniforms are making their wearers feel more aggressive or, alternatively, the red uniforms are more intimidating to their opponents and therefore negatively affect their performance. Either way, the results are significant.

Color Meanings

Every color is associated with different emotions. The use of color in design can affect the emotions and moods of the people viewing those color palettes. Using colors wisely can improve user experience and increase desired behaviors (including conversion rates) in significant ways.

Warm Colors

Warm colors include shades of red, orange, and yellow. In general, these colors are energetic and active, with relatively positive connotations.

Red: Red is associated with passion, love, and lust. It can also be associated with warnings and danger, or even with anger (hence the term “seeing red”). Red can have a physiological impact on people, too, including raising respiration and heart rate.

Orange: Orange is energetic and positive. It’s association with autumn leaves and seasonal transitions can also make people think of change when they see it. Orange is also associated with warnings, though less strongly than red.

Yellow: Yellow is considered the happiest hue in the color spectrum and is closely associated with sunshine and with hope. It can also be linked with caution and cowardice, though.

Parabola’s choice of yellow as their main background color is immediately uplifting to visitors.

Cool Colors

Cool colors include shades of blue, green, and purple. Generally speaking, cool colors are more calm and relaxed than warm colors, though specific hues can have different properties.

Blue: Blue is calming and also represents honesty and loyalty (hence its popularity in so many corporate branding color schemes). Blue can be associated with sadness and loss, depending on context. It’s also linked to peace and even spirituality.

Green: Green can represent new beginnings and growth, as well as nature. It has some of the energizing properties of yellow, while also carrying over some of blue’s calming effects. Green is associated with affluence, money, and stability, particularly in darker shades.

Purple: Purple has long been associated with luxury and royalty, but also with mystery and the occult. Lighter purples, such as lavender, are more romantic and associated with spring.

Brittany Chiang’s use of blues and greens gives an impression of trustworthiness and growth.


Neutral colors often take on characteristics of the other colors in a palette and can be used to reinforce those influences. The basic neutrals include black, white, gray, brown, and beige.

Black: Black is elegant and sophisticated, but can also be sad and representative of death and mourning.

White: White is pure and innocent, and often linked to cleanliness. Although in some cultures it can also be associated with death.

Gray: Gray can be seen as sophisticated and powerful, but can also come across as boring if used the wrong way. It’s one of the most flexible neutrals, as it can be seen as warm or cool, traditional or modern.

Brown: Brown is solid and dependable, and can be associated with nature depending on the context in which it is used.

Beige: Beige can be warm or cool depending on the colors used around it. It’s generally conservative and can take on the warmth of brown or the coolness of white. It takes on the meaning of the colors around it and often fades into the background, adding little psychological influence on its own.

Cultural Differences

One area where designers need to be particularly careful in their work is in considering cultural differences in color meaning.

For example, in most western cultures, white is associated with innocence and black is associated with death and mourning.

But in other cultures, particularly China, Japan, Korea, and other Asian countries, white is associated with death and mourning, and even bad luck.

The psychological effects of color on human behavior vary by culture. (via Open Source Studio)

It’s important to consider where the users of a product are coming from. If the majority of users for a particular site are coming from Indonesia, for example, then using green would be a bad idea. But if they’re coming from the Middle East, then green is associated with luck, wealth, and fertility, which might be exactly the kind of message desired.

Taking time to research the exact cultural meanings of colors before committing to a color palette is an important step in the UX design process and one that can’t be overlooked. Not just because of cultural differences, but also because of the significant effects color can have on user behavior.

Making even subtle changes to an exact hue can have a big impact on how users perceive that color. For example, navy blue is considered loyal and traditional while bright blue can be modern and energetic and light blue can be calming and peaceful. They’re all “blue” but the effect of adding black or white to change the specific color is very significant.

The same goes for how colors are combined. Red and green are complementary colors on the color wheel, and using them right next to each other can create a vibrating effect that’s very unpleasing to the eye. But if you lighten the red to pink and make the green more of a jewel tone, it becomes a striking and unexpected color palette that’s immediately memorable and visually appealing.

Pink and green are a modern take on the traditional red and green complementary color scheme. (via hafid lhachmi for YFF Office)

How Color Affects Consumer Behavior

Color can affect performance, as already mentioned, but it can also affect overall behavior among users. Countless case studies have been done comparing the effectiveness of different color choices on things calls to action.

HubSpot ran a case study on the effect of switching a button color from green to red on Performable’s website and got some very conclusive results.

A designer’s gut reaction might be that green would perform better, as it’s associated with “go” while red is associated with “stop” and might make people pause before clicking.

But the results said the opposite: the red button outperformed the green by 21%. In other case studies, green significantly outperforms yellow or orange, though.

Logo design is another area where color choice is incredibly important.

Brands pay specialists thousands (and sometimes millions) of dollars to find exactly the right hue for their brand, one that evokes the correct feelings and actions from their customers while also standing out just the right amount from competitors in their industry (and the “right” amount is often dependent on the specific industry).

Fake at Science Gallery uses a hot pink and bright purple color palette to create a memorable impression.

Act Normal’s bright pink background is visually appealing and memorable, incorporating the passion of bright red without being aggressive.

Kennard Lilly’s use of a traditional dark blue color with bright accents creates a modern brand that still comes across as trustworthy and honest.

The key takeaway here is that the color used in a design does have a significant effect on user behavior but the context in which the color is used is a major factor in this.

Buttons, for example, should stand out from the surrounding design elements without clashing with them (one area where using a complementary color is a great idea, such as using a red button when much of the design includes green).


The main takeaways from all of this are that color is a vital part of creating positive user experiences and that there is no single right color palette for a given application.

This is why testing designs with real users is such a vital part of creating a color palette optimized for the specific use cases it will be enduring.

A green button might convert great compared to a yellow button in one context, but a red button might outperform them both in another.

Further reading on the Toptal Design Blog:

The power of color lies not so much in specific hues, but in how colors are used to evoke particular responses. That said, red and blue are most often associated with power, though because color psychology is not well-studied from a scientific viewpoint, those associations are debatable.

What is the psychology of color?

Color psychology addresses the way colors and emotions are intricately linked and how color affects human behavior. There has been little rigorous scientific study on the psychological effects of color, but plenty of anecdotal evidence exists.

What colors are positive?

Warm color schemes are most often associated with positivity: red, orange, and yellow. Brighter and lighter colors are also seen as more positive, including sky blue, lavender, and bright green. Darker, duller colors should be avoided when trying to evoke a feeling of positivity.

CTA stands for Call to Action. A CTA generally consists of a button or other action-oriented element that aims to get a user to take a specific action. Color psychology is an important element of CTA design, as changing the color of a CTA can have a significant effect on its effectiveness.

How does color affect us?

Color can have psychological effects on everything from human behavior to mood to performance. Prisons in Europe have started painting their walls pink in an effort to calm aggressive inmates. Red sports uniforms have been linked to higher win rates. Blue has been linked to higher rates of creativity.


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