What’s Color Got To Do With It?

I was walking home from the bus today when I noticed Queen Anne Hill is more colorful than usual.

Living in the Pacific Northwest, we don’t have a huge smattering of leaves that change color in the fall. Really, I’ve seen the most in the residential areas of Seattle, but I’d say at least 90% of the trees around here are evergreens.

Growing up in Washington, I’ve always attributed the colors blue, green, and gray to this place.

I had a bit of a revelation when I moved to Colorado to go to college because the color palette is much different. Boulder is much more of a red, yellow, and brown place.

Seeing the reds and browns on the hill across the way today made me think of Boulder and I found myself suddenly feeling optimistic.

Do the colors of a place make a difference in the way we feel about it, or how we feel when we’re there? If so, is the relationship something that we’re born with or is it learned (and dependent upon our culture and experiences)?

Color Psychology is the study of color as a factor in human behavior.

I did a little research, but it doesn’t seem like there is a definitive answer to my question. The general answer seems to be yes, colors do make a difference in our moods, but there is some discrepancy about which colors conjure which moods.


Purple is said to be uplifting, calming, and promote spirituality, but can be unsettling and can promote pride and arrogance.

Blue is said to be a calming and relaxing color, for the most part, however one article I read stated that too much blue could bring sadness or indifference, or could come off as being cold and uncaring.

Green is supposedly related to emotional stability (though you wouldn’t know that here in Seattle) and is suggested to help depression and anxiety, but (like blue) too much can conjure sadness or indifference. 

Yellow is optimistic and sparks energy and creativity, but can also cause anger, hyperactivity, and poor concentration.

Orange is warm, energetic, and is said to stimulate appetite and socialization, but can lead to pessimism, confusion, anger, and hostility.

Red is exciting, stimulates energy and enthusiasm, and strengthens willpower, but is most likely to trigger anger and hostility.

Brown is associated with stability, orderliness, and wholesomeness. (I didn’t find any negatives on brown for some reason.)

White is said to evoke purification (cleaning cluttered areas, clearing a cluttered mind) and aid in mental clarity, but can also be unsettling at times.

Grey is supposedly neutral, but I found other sources saying it can be unsettling and depressing.

Black is associated with authoritativeness and mysteriousness, but is easily overwhelming.


Before you run to the hardware store to pick out a new shade for your living room, you should note that research has demonstrated that mood-altering effects of color might only be temporary, wearing off after a short period of time. I’m no scientist, so I don’t know if that means our mood is effected every time we walk into a blue room, or only the first time we see it. I would expect that any color someone is around for a significant amount of time would make a difference over time, but who knows.

There is also something called Color Therapy (or Chromatherapy), a practice in which colors are used to influence things like mood, mental state, energy level, and physical functioning. An interesting concept, but it is viewed highly skeptically by most medical professionals.

I tend to lean toward thinking that our responses to color are more likely to be something we’ve picked up from our culture and personal experiences. In America, wearing white is associated with weddings, while in India it is associated with funerals. It seems like that would make a difference in one’s overall perception!

At the end of the day, yes I associate the colors of the blue, gray, and green of Seattle with depression. I know there are countless other variables here, the weather (which is pretty depressing in itself) included, and maybe this is one of those times where I feel that way simply because that’s been my own experience. I can’t deny that the fall colors really perk me up though, and there could be more to it than meets the eye.

2 responses to “What’s Color Got To Do With It?

  1. I loved your post! Color therapy, I never considered that!

    I also lean toward the belief that colors evoke emotion. I walked into a classroom that I had never been in last week. The walls were a pastel green-blue color. It was a beautiful change from white walls smattered with posters. I found it lovely.

    You would love Pittsburgh. It is so colorful. The spring and summer are filled with bright blue skies and a radiant sun. The autumn is beautiful with warm colors against the neutral greens.

    I associate the winter with nothing but shades of grey. The sky is covered in a heavy grey blanket of clouds, allowing no sun to pass for weeks at a time. The light cast is a dim white onto dirty, grey snow. The buildings are mostly steel. Honestly, grey everywhere. It’s depressing.

    I love only certain shades of each color. I love plum. Turquoise and emerald. Gold, but not yellow. Silver and only smokey greys. I love all blues with the exception of baby blue. Brown, bronze. And creams and whites. Tan and beige. All gorgeous.

    What do you think the shade preference means?

  2. From what I read, different shades do matter in the overall feeling of a color, but shade preference is largely based on personal/cultural experiences around that color.

    I wonder how much the color gurus at Pantone (who decide which colors are “in” for the season) play a part in which colors people gravitate toward.

    And speaking of the colorful classroom, in my brief time spent as a corporate fashion person I was appalled that we all lived in drab gray cubicles. Seriously, how is someone expected to churn out creative work when the color of the environment is so dull and depressing?

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