Think Pink -- Or, Maybe, Blue, For Improving Performance and Productivity
by C.S. Clarke, Ph.D.
The psychology of color has a number of practical business uses including advertising, website design and, of course, decorating. But did you know that color can have an impact on performance and productivity?
Color has a physical impact. In fact, it has an impact even if you are color-blind. And it will have that impact on some level no matter what psychological associations you have with it.
You may have heard of the experiments in and uses of the color pink in calming anger or even rage.
For a great number of people pink -- a particular shade of pink -- has a calming effect. It appears that the reason for the effect is that the exposure to it actually causes the heart to slow. However, the effect is temporary and overexposure can cause the effect to become reversed for some people. Pink has other effects and associations in varying shades. More on that later.
It's when you look at the psychological associations that people have with colors that you find the real power for developing useful tools and techniques. And associations can even overwhelm initial natural impact.
If you investigate the associations people have with various colors, you can use color to create many different results. As I said earlier, it's been studied quite a bit for its use in advertising and website design. For instance, it has been suggested that Google ads on a publisher's website get more hits if there is a red border around the ads. I don't know if that's true or not, but it is true that advertising design professionals use the color red to stimulate action.
Some associations are fairly universal. That is, even across cultures people agree on the "meaning" of the color. Other associations are personal, and the individual associations can override the more standard ones.
Nevertheless, because of their universal associations and direct impact on the mind, several colors can be used quite effectively in the same way that pink has been used to create specific psychological effects.
Green can be used to stimulate feelings of refreshment, peace, relaxation, hope or a sense of "coming to life" or awakening. Because it is associated with nature or "green growing things," just looking at the color green has many of the same effects as looking at a landscape.
Blue can help you feel both stable and expansive. There is something reassuring about blue. Perhaps it's because it is the color of the sky -- a color that is steadfastly repeated in our daily lives, something we can count on. Darker shades can give you a sense of protection or strength, allowing you to relax and promoting a better ability to get restful sleep. Dark shades are also known for giving you a sense of being organized, of having things in order. Like green, some shades of blue also give a sense of refreshment. Its association with sea and sky provoke memories of being outdoors and breathing fresh air.
Yellow is cheery, upbeat, optimistic. Like the sunshine it resembles, it creates an immediate sense of warmth and hope. It can be quite energizing.
Pink. Okay. Lets talk a little more about pink. There is only one shade of pink that has been written up in research literature as effective in stopping anger and rage. It's called Baker-Miller Pink. (The solid color, left swatch of the two examples.) But other shades of pink have varying effects that are also useful. Some of the brighter shades have similar effects to red: they can increase blood pressure and heart rate, thereby stimulating you to become more active. The very light shades of pink act a bit like yellow: they give you a sense of cheerfulness and lightheartedness.
Red is a stimulant to action. A wake up color. An alert color. An attention getter. But be careful with red, because it is also associated with anger and violence. A limited amount of exposure -- whether by time or by quantity -- may help get you going when you're feeling tired or bored. A great deal of exposure to red, especially certain shades of it, can make you uncomfortable or agitated. This is one you have to experiment with.
You will have noticed that I have presented the color swatches above as gradients rather than solid colors. The eye and the mind have a bit of trouble with solid colors. If you gaze at a solid color, it starts playing tricks with your vision. In nature, you get variations in light, shadow and hue. So, I've made them easier to look at.