Motivation and emotion/Book/2016/Changing mood through colour

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Changing mood through colour:
How can colour be used to change people's mood?
Figure 1: Colors can effect our emotions significantly

Overview[edit | edit source]

In the Pixar movie 'Inside Out' (2015), the main characters are the emotions inside a young girls' head. Joy, Anger, Disgust, Fear and Sadness. All the characters are different colours, chosen to represent that emotion. Yellow for joy and happiness, red for anger and frustration, green for disgust and attitude, purple for fear and nervousness and blue for sadness and depression. How did they decide what colour to put with what emotion? What makes these colours represent these emotions? And more importantly, do these colour have the ability to actually alter our mood, or is it just us being influenced by these colours[explain?]?

What do you feel when you see the colour red? Anger, love, or maybe warm or lucky? What about green? Grey? Purple? Take the following quiz to see how your opinion stacks up against the research.

What emotion/s do you think of when you see the following?

1 Red


2 Grey


3 Yellow


4 Blue


These results came from one single study (Gilbert, A., Fridlund, A., and Lucchina, L., 2016). You may agree with them, or disagree but there are no correct answers when it comes to interpreting colours.

Colour is simply (or complexly) "The property possessed by an object of producing different sensations on the eye as a result of the way it reflects or emits light." (Augarde, A. J., The Oxford Dictionary, 1981). In this chapter we will discuss whether colour actually changes your mood, how colour effects people on a physical level, what colour can make a person do and if colour effects people differently depending on personality type.

Affect and mood[edit | edit source]

We all know what emotions are linked to certain colours, and these links are fairly consistent among the population[factual?]. Like the creators of Inside out, most people think of joy or happiness when they see yellow or of disgust and envy when they see green. But to what extent are these colours actually changing a person's mood? Can they go from happy to sad, simply by sitting in a yellow room or will they just be slightly happier for a little while[explain?]?

To understand whether colour can change a person's mood or if it merely affecting emotional state, one must first understand the difference between affect and mood. These two concepts are relatively similar, but differences in duration and cause make them individual terms. Affect and mood both refer the feeling of emotions, however, mood lasts longer than affect (hours to days compared to minutes or hours). For example, you have failed a test and for the next day or two you feel sad or you are in a bad mood, but during the second day you find $10 on the ground and for an hour or so, you experience a positive affect (happiness) before returning to a bad mood (Difference Between Mood and Affect, 2010). Another difference is that mood can have no particular cause of onset. Say you feel great when you wake up one day but for no real reason. On the other hand, affect has a cause, such as shock when finding a spider in your shoe. The emotion has a cause of on set and doesn't last more than a few minutes (Difference Between Mood and Affect, 2010). With those definitions in mind, we are able to go forth and investigate whether colour affects the temporary state of mind, or an enduring mood.

As the terms mood (enduring) and affect (short term) are often used interchangeably, one must look closely at the research to determine which one it is.

One study suggested that warm tones of red would evoke a positive mood, tested on the The Profile of Mood States (POMS) (Albert, A., 2007). However, what they actually found was that people measured high on negative moods when seeing bright, warm reds as opposed to deeper, cool or neutral reds who were less affected. Another study suggested measuring fatigue and oppression (also on the POMS) found that the colour blue could reduce these feelings (Sakuragi, S., and Sugiyama, Y., 2011). But wait, are these studies showing a change in affect or mood? More likely affect, as the effects of the colours were measured instantaneously after being presented.

Britannica Rat - Black Rat[say what?]

So how would mood be measured in response to colour? One study looked at pregnant rats and the neurotransmitters associated with depression (Khosravi, A., and Faryadian, S., 2015). Interestingly, mother rats exposed to red and black gave birth to babies that were prone to depressed moods, whereas mother rats exposed to green had babies there were not prone to depressed moods. Even though this is preliminary animal based research, it appears to indicate that colour could impact whether a baby will be born with a predisposition to depression, and if colour could lead to a predisposition to depression it could also lead other illnesses.

Altered neurotransmitter levels is pretty conclusive in showing that colour can have a psychical [say what?] effect on the brain. Even though this is a study on rats, it is worth thinking about the implications of this information[Provide more detail]. And this physical change in the brain is definitely a change in mood.

Getting Physical![edit | edit source]

Now, we know that colour potentially has the ability to change levels of neurotransmitters, what about other physical aspects? Jacobs & Hustmyer, (1974) looked into the effects of four primary colours (Red, green, blue, yellow) on three psychological aspects, Galvanic Skin Response (GSR), heart rate and respiration. Although they didn't find any changes in heart rate or respiration when participants were exposed to certain colours, they did find a change in GSR.

"Galvanic Skin Response is the change in the skins electrical conductivity in response to emotional stimuli" (, 2016) (the thing that lie detectors pick up on). From this study, we can see that colour is classified as an emotional stimuli, however it is unclear whether this emotional stimuli has an enduring effect (creating a mood) or is merely altering the affect. As these results were taken right away, it is unclear and one can only speculate whether the response is as temporary as the GSR or if the GSR is the start to an enduring mood.

Having our skin react to a simple block of colour is pretty amazing and with further research, this could have some interesting applications. Imagine a story told only with blocks of colour, manipulating your bodily sensations so you feel the story, not see it or low blood pressure being raised by sitting the person in a certain colour room.

Harder, better, faster, stronger[edit | edit source]

'Do YOU want to be more productive in the workplace? Work HARDER for the same amount of money? Here are 10 easy tips to increase YOUR productivity during the day.'

Sounds like something out of a cheap magazine, and yet, along with changing mood for the long run and changing your body on a physical level, colour can also alter how productive you are (Savavibool et al., 2018). Productive in this setting means how comfortably and efficiently a person can get work done.

Have you ever wondered why offices are normally a cream/beige colour? Its not a lack of creativity, but a well researched idea. A few studies have found that bright, strong colours can lead to an increased level of arousal, leading to a decrease in productivity (Kwallek, N., Lewis, C., Lin-Hsiao, J., and Woodson, H., 1996; Küller, R., Mikellides, B., and Janssens, J., 2009.) As can be seen in Figure 1, there is an ideal level of arousal for productivity, too much arousal or too little arousal results in a lower level of productivity.


Other factors interacting with colour, such as high/low demand tasks and gender of participant also had an interesting effect.

In an experiment using three coloured monitors and either a high or low demand task, a unusual pattern was found. For a high demand task, red decreased performance, but with a low demand task, blue decreased performance (Beige, the third colour, had no changes) (Hatta, T., Yoshida, H., Kawakami, A., and Okamoto, M., 2002). What is interesting about this is that the interpretation of colour changes with arousal levels. Moreover, the colour blue, sometimes associated with calm and rest, decreases performance on an already calm task. This is possibly because a low task results in a low arousal level and the blue monitor calmed the participant even more putting them in a unproductive level of arousal. The same scenario applies for red, having it associated with anger and frustration.

There is also a difference between males and females in colour preferences for productivity. Its has been shown that females are more likely to score feelings of depression in low saturated rooms (White or gray) whereas males will score more feelings of depression in high saturated rooms (Pink and orange). Yet, the same study found that a majority of the participants would prefer to work in a white or beige office (Kwallek, N., Lewis, C., Lin-Hsiao, J., & Woodson, H.,1996). Given that the study had an equal number of male and female participants, it's rather unusual. The same females felt depressed in a a white or beige room would still prefer to work in an office of that colour. A potential area for further research.

With all this being said, it is important to remember that there are many other factors accounting for productivity and the reaction to colors, such as environmental sensitivity and length of exposure to the colour.(Kwallek, N., Soon, K., & Lewis, C., 2007). Perhaps take some time to consider some other factor that may not have been taken into account in these studies[for example?].

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

As we can see, colour can have quite an impact on us. From changing moods, altering physical states to increasing productivity. Colours have the ability to alter arousal levels and in turn, change our mood. Yet one of the most important things to remember; colour is perceived differently by each person. Our differences in rods and cones (colour blindness or damage), cultural upbringing and personal traits all effect the way we perceive feelings and meaning about colours. Research into the effect colours can have on mood and other aspects of life are just the beginning. With more research into the area, the uses of the information found could be limitless; from personalised colour themes in your office to maximise productivity to colour therapy for mood disorders, anything could be possible.

External links[edit | edit source]} What do colors mean?, 25 January, 2016

References[edit | edit source]

Augarde, A. J. "Colour." Def. 1. The Oxford Dictionary. 1981. Print.

Difference Between Mood and Affect. (2010). Difference Between. Retrieved 22 October 2016, from

Galvanic skin response. (n.d.). Unabridged. Retrieved October 23, 2016 from website

Albert, A. (2007). Color Hue and Mood: The Effect of Variation of Red Hues on Positive and Negative Mood States. College Of St. Elizabeth Journal Of The Behavioral Sciences, 1(Fall2007), 19-26.

Gilbert, A., Fridlund, A., & Lucchina, L. (2016). The color of emotion: A metric for implicit color associations. Food Quality And Preference, 52, 203-210.


Hatta, T., Yoshida, H., Kawakami, A., & OKAMOTO, M. (2002). COLOR OF COMPUTER DISPLAY FRAME IN WORK PERFORMANCE, MOOD, AND PHYSIOLOGICAL RESPONSE. Perceptual And Motor Skills, 94(1), 39-46.

Jacobs, K. & Hustmyer, F. (1974). EFFECTS OF FOUR PSYCHOLOGICAL PRIMARY COLORS ON GSR, HEART RATE AND RESPIRATION RATE. Perceptual And Motor Skills,38(3), 763-766.

Khosravi, A., & Faryadian, S. (2015). Effects of prenatal exposure to different colors on offsprings mood. Iranian Journal Of Basic Medical Sciences, 18(11), 1086-1092.

Kwallek, N., Lewis, C., Lin-Hsiao, J., & Woodson, H. (1996). Effects of nine monochromatic office interior colors on clerical tasks and worker mood. Color Research & Application, 21(6), 448-458.<448::aid-col7>;2-w

Kwallek, N., Lewis, C., & Robbins, A. (1988). EFFECTS OF OFFICE INTERIOR COLOR ON WORKERS' MOOD AND PRODUCTIVITY. Perceptual And Motor Skills66(1), 123-128.

Kwallek, N., Soon, K., & Lewis, C. (2007). Work week productivity, visual complexity, and individual environmental sensitivity in three offices of different color interiors. Color Research & Application, 32(2), 130-143.

Küller, R., Mikellides, B., & Janssens, J. (2009). Color, arousal, and performance-A comparison of three experiments. Color Research & Application, 34(2), 141-152.

Sakuragi, S., & Sugiyama, Y. (2011). EFFECT OF PARTITION BOARD COLOR ON MOOD AND AUTONOMIC NERVOUS FUNCTION. Perceptual & Motor Skills, 113(3), 941-956. doi:10.2466/03.14.22.PMS.113.6.941-956

Savavibool, N., Gatersleben, B., & Moorapun, C. (2018). The Effects of Colour in Work Environment: A systematic review. Asian Journal of Behavioural Studies, 3(13), 149.