The Psychology of Color

Cheryl Catts

October 4, 2011

I spent the last weekend in Colorado visiting family, and got lucky enough to be there on – what had to have been – the best weekend for fall color of the year. We spent an entire day driving through the mountains ooohing and ahhhing over the shockingly bright shades of the yellow aspen leaves. Clearly people had come from all over the state on this one particular weekend to drive, bike and photograph their way over the passes. Obviously there is something in us humans that loves to look at color.

Anyone who grew up outside of Oz knows that color affects us – bright colors make us happy, pastel colors make us mellow, earthy colors soothe us. Pantone – the experts on color psychology – tells us that our relationships to colors are often subliminal and can cause us to have instantaneous and unconscious reactions to anything we see based on our memories, culture or attitudes. How many of us don’t swell with pride for the colors of our alma mater, or laugh at the profusion of neons in our childhood wardrobes (just me?)?

I’m not a designer, so I haven’t been formally educated in color. However, I can look at things and know what I like and what I don’t like. We all can. But we don’t necessarily know why. While there is a LOT of science behind it, it can also be so abstract that it kind of hurts my head to think all of the reasons I might love or hate any given color or palate.

Because of this subjectivity, color ultimately becomes a form of expression. From the colors we choose to wear, our car, lipstick, living room pillows, products we buy or stores where we shop, we are constantly making decisions based on color. And all of those decisions say something about us. Today I’m wearing green, but if it’s raining at the end of the week I’ll most likely be in gray. I’m not matching the weather. I’m matching my mood.

While there are more than 1,100 spot colors in the standard Pantone book, every year they select a “Color of the Year,” which is supposed to reflect the climate of the nation at the time. This year we find ourselves with Honeysuckle. Taken from the press release, Pantone defends this choice by saying, “In times of stress, we need something to lift our spirits. Honeysuckle is a captivating, stimulating color that gets the adrenaline going – perfect to ward off the blues.”


While I might not understand it, I know that I LOVE color, and all that it can do and say. And if honeysuckle has the powers professed, I might just find an end table in my house that needs to be repainted…