Shaping Mood and Behavior with Color

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There are 10 million colors that the human eye can see, and each one has a deep, rich history and purpose. When entering any built environment, it is easy to dismiss the application of color as an arbitrary decision. One might think the selection of a shade of green would have little to no impact to the overall experience of a space, but studies have shown that our moods and behaviors can be influenced by strategically selected hues.

A 2016 study in China observed that different colored plates had a direct effect on the perception of the dish’s spiciness. When test subjects were presented with a spicy bean curd served on a red plate, they reported it noticeably more intense then the same dish presented on a white or green plate.

Findings like this are not surprising when considering the earliest hunter-gatherers relied on color to seek out food or avoid danger. Humans developed the ability to detect varying shades of green plants to distinguish leaves and fruits as safe or ready for consumption.

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Understanding our reactive relationship with color can determine if a certain hue can help make a space more effective in achieving a targeted mood. For example, we typically associate green with nature; it helps us believe the environment is nurturing and life-affirming. Because of green’s low wavelength and easy detection compared to the rest of the color spectrum, a carefully planned dose of green can be more effective in creating a calming, restful environment than other colors.  

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Cool blue light has been found to affect the body’s ability to regulate certain hormones. Harvard researchers and their colleagues found that exposure to blue light suppressed subjects’ melatonin levels and shifted their circadian rhythms twice as long as exposure to green light. While most people are not exposed to saturated colored light like the research participants, they are at the mercy of the color temperature of the lights on a daily basis. Understanding that warmer or cooler light temperatures can affect people at a fundamental level now becomes an important consideration when selecting the appropriate light fixtures to match the environment.

Consider that the pale yellow hue of the rising sun parallels ideas of optimism and awakening. As the morning atmosphere mixes with higher concentrations of particles, longer wavelengths of light reach our eyes and generate shades of orange and red. It is during this time of day that oxygen flow to our brain surges, blood pressure increases, and we are most stimulated and energetic. Research even advises us to prolong exposure to this type of environment during the day to brighten our mood.

On an emotional level, we also use colors to navigate our relationship with others. Red faces indicate an increase in blood flow (like embarrassment or anger), and pale or blue faces help detect ailment or worried emotions.

Considering the nuanced, layered relationship that color has with people can help us create more productive places to live, work, and play in. If we remind ourselves that color can help fill fundamental needs and affect our senses, mood, and behavior, then color selection and dosage can become a strategic tool instead of an arbitrary whim.

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Giancarlo Salonga

GSalonga@pdrcorp.com

713.739.9059

Giancarlo’s work has been published in Interior Design Magazine, and his involvement in all aspects of design is authentic and original. His experience includes the project process, providing support to project leaders during programming, space planning, design development, contract documents, contract administration, and furniture specifications.

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Maria Nguyen

MNguyen@pdrcorp.com

713.739.9059

As an Interior Designer, Maria has a passion for thoughtful design that creates memorable architectural experiences. She believes everyone should have access to great design, which does not have to come with a high price tag. Maria’s seven years of experience and her drive to continually gather knowledge allow her to create quality holistic designs.