Common Associations

By: Anna Franklin

There have been hundreds of studies aimed at identifying what human beings associate with different colours. Many studies have investigated the link between colour and emotion. Although not all of these studies agree, some consistent results can be extracted from the literature.

First, the more saturated the colour is, the more it is associated with excitement and stimulation.

A very large number of studies have found that red is also associated with excitement and stimulation (a lesser number find no association).

Second, the lighter the colour, the more it is associated with calmness and relaxation.

Many studies have found that blue and green are also associated with calmness and relaxation (fewer studies find no association).

One study proposed that colour appearance can be described in terms of the dimensions of warm-cool, heavy-light and active-passive, and it is possible that these dimensions form a basis for colour associations. When people are asked to list things that they associate with a colour they typically list certain emotions (e.g. yellow = happy), objects (e.g. yellow = banana), physical attributes of appearance (e.g. yellow = bright), or abstract concepts (e.g. white = peace). Several studies suggest that colour associations, particularly abstract concepts, can vary across cultures. For example, whereas white is associated with peace in some cultures, in others it is associated with death. The implications for design are that if designing for a global audience then the colour associations across cultures must be considered.

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Professor Anna Franklin is a leading expert in colour psychology. She is a Director of the Sussex Colour Group in the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex in England.