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Deep blue sky laced with white clouds

Clear blue waters give way to a soothing landscape

Hues of crimson exude energy across the morning sky

Red is a colour associated with ceremony in many cultures

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Showcase 29 Feb 2012

The Power of Colour

To harness the amazing power of colour you first need to expand your idea of what colour is all about. You must understand colour as something that goes far beyond the knowledge of colour theory, or a natural eye for putting colours together harmoniously.

The Effects of Colour 

Colour taps into your heart, mind and body. Studies show that most of the time you aren't consciously aware of the influence colour has on you, despite that it is a part of your everyday mood and feelings. Even when you are tuned in to the effects of colour, it can still be difficult to pin down exactly why you are responding in a particular way. That's because there may be a countless number of signals, all converging into your response to a colour or colour scheme.

Colour Symbolism: Learned Responses 

Colour symbolism describes associations or learned responses to colour based on sex, age, environment and cultural references. For example, purple is often linked to royalty because long ago it was the colour made from a dye that only the very wealthy could afford. Red is an auspicious colour that historically has symbolised good fortune, protection, commitment and joy.

Colour Psychology: Human Behaviour 

Colour psychology on the other hand is the study of colour as a factor in human behaviour. These responses to colour are automatic, inherited and shared regardless of age, sex, geographical area, or cultural background. While the effects of colour on the human body and brain are not fully understood, studies have shown that colours can stimulate the areas of the brain that regulate hormones and other physiological systems. In turn they alter mood and emotions.

For instance, being surrounded by blue can calm you down while seeing red can excite you. These colours can tap into your emotions, too. Red can evoke feelings of aggression, while blue may make you feel at peace. It is this combination of physical and emotional response to a colour that adds another layer to its meaning.

Colour Meaning: Personal Bias 

As you have gone through life you have also developed a unique association to colours. Your colour memories are strongly linked to your experiences and can have a long-reaching effect on how you respond to colour. Personal colour associations can influence how you feel about a colour and thus your decisions about it. If your bedroom growing up had yellow walls, which you hated, chances are you will never think of it as the perfect colour in your home as an adult.

Colour Meanings, Symbolism and Psychology 

Red may call to mind love, romance and passion, and the hearts of Valentine's Day. Yet red also is associated with fast cars, aggressive behaviour and even rage as in 'seeing red'. So how is it that the same colour has come to represent two things that seem so opposite? Red is inherently exciting. It stimulates energy, increases your blood pressure, respiration, heartbeat and pulse rate. Love and rage produce similar physical reactions. Love can make your heart beat a little faster and your palms sweat. Anger also raises your blood pressure and makes your heart pound faster, but for a different reason. Love, anger and the colour red all produce changes in our body that are very similar and link the colour with these emotions. Using the colour red in symbols or phrases that describe love or anger reinforces that message.

A person's experiences, personal preferences and cultural bias all come into play when discussing colour. While colour symbolism and psychology are not one and the same, they easily become intertwined, since our learned colour associations often closely correspond to our innate reactions to the same colour. Sprinkle in personal bias and you will begin to understand the power of colour.

Contributor: President and chief color maven of Sensational Color, Kate Smith is an internationally renowned colour expert, sought out for her ability to guide businesses on how to use colour to gain recognition and generate revenue.