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Living in Color


Written by Zoe Manoukian

Decorating among millennials often entails pairing the perfect plant with the cutest pattern with the simplest furniture. It can go so far as to choosing a particular scent to compliment the ambiance, in accordance with the idea that certain scents trigger certain emotions and chemical releases. Likewise, a millennial (or a psychologist, or a marketer) might choose a particular color to furnish a room following the understanding that color can affect mood and mentality, and they are not wrong. We often associate our feelings and emotions with respective colors, and understand the archetypal roles that colors play in literature, art, and cinema. The association between color and feeling as explored in literature can go back as far as Goethe’s Theory of Colors, penned in 1810, in which Goethe theorizes that colors such as red and yellow evoke positive emotional response such as warmth and excitement (Elliot, 2015). 

Studies regarding the psychological impacts of color have been conducted in regard to the physiological reactions to certain colors, the effect that the wavelength has on the psyche, and, more recently, respond to questions such as “what wall color facilitates worker alternates and productivity?” (Eliot, 2015).

Alicia Ault of Smithsonian Magazine explains our propensities to feel certain ways towards certain colors. While some reactions can be innate, Ault posits that our reactions stem from biology as well as social learning. Color-in-context theory is the idea that our responses to color derive from our experiences with a given color as well as the situations in which we have interacted with it. She further explains “people tend to like colors they associate with objects they love or consider to be good things—they like red because it’s the color of strawberries or cherries or red lips. And that can influence a person’s mood or their actions—when it comes to choosing a sweater, what food to eat or what product to buy” (Ault, 2015).

Besides impacting how we feel, color can also impact how we think, learn, and work. According to  Andrew J. Elliot of the, Department of Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology at University of Rochester in New York, color and brain development in children are associated with one another. He emphasizes the importance in choosing color wisely when furnishing spaces intended for children, such as classrooms. According to Elliot, dull colors will not strain the eye and can foster a sense of calm, especially as seen in blue and green tones which can facilitate happiness and content. Further, colors such as yellow and red are seen as striking and attention demanding. They can be used for details that require emphasis, but should not be so integrated that they become overstimulating or distracting. Colors such as pink can minimize feelings of aggression. Elliot insists on a balance between dull and exciting colors, suggesting that if the furniture is dull, the décor can then be exciting, and vice versa. Just as an overstimulating atmosphere can have negative impacts, so too can a room too dull or lacking color, as suggested by a study that found that living in a completely white space rendered gorillas hyper introverted and incommunicative. 

Students interested in maintaining a comfortable, balanced, and productive work or living space might consider their adopted color schemes and determine the extent to which the stimuli around them are encouraging efficiency or inefficiency, clarity or chaos.


Ault, A. (2015, December 15). Ask Smithsonian: How Do Colors Affect Our Moods? Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/ask-smithsonian-how-do-colors-affect-our-moods-180957504/ 

Color and Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://renketkisi.com/en/color-and-learning.html

Elliot, A. J. (2015, March 16). Color and psychological functioning: a review of theoretical and empirical work. Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00368/full