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Blue Sky Science: Why do some colors make you feel emotions?

Angela Moreno-Lopez

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Why do some colors make you feel emotions?

Over the years you’ve learned to associate certain colors, certain shapes, certain things that you see with specific emotions.

You might look at the sky, see this deep blue and think ‘blue makes me feel this way.’ I don’t think that’s the case. I think it’s those associations that you’re feeling, rather than the colors themselves.

For example, in our culture in the west, we associate funerals with sadness and with the color black.

If you go to certain Asian countries, they wear white at funerals. They associate white and the white of funerals with sadness in the same way that we associate black with sadness.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t any affects of color on emotion.

Over the years, researchers have come up with several ways of measuring emotion. One example is called PAD, which stands for pleasure (how cheerful you feel), arousal (how excited you feel) and dominance (how in control you feel).

Scientists can put sensors on people like a lie detector test, but instead of looking for lies, they’re looking for emotions. They present colors and measure which make you experience pleasure, arousal or dominance.

Scientists tend to look at three different aspects to color: value, hue and saturation. Value is the brightness or intensity of the thing you’re looking at. The hue is the color from the rainbow, from red through to blue. Saturation is how much hue is present.

In one study the researchers found brightness, or value, is significantly correlated with both pleasure and arousal. Saturation was correlated with arousal and dominance.

The responses for hue, the rainbow of colors, were all over the map. This means the brightness and saturation of a color was more related to emotion than the actual hue, whether it be blue, green, orange, red.

A single research study can’t necessarily say color means nothing, but it does show you that the aspects of color are very complicated when it comes to emotion.

About Blue Sky Science

Blue Sky Science is a collaboration of the Wisconsin State Journal and the Morgridge Institute for Research. The questions are primarily posed by visitors attending Discovery Building events.

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