Physiological and Psychological effects of color on the brain

January 18, 2024

Today we will talk about the surprising truth of the defects that colors produce in people. I think it is an interesting subject and that presents certain curiosities that I hope will be solved in this article.

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Already in the 18th century, the effects of color on human psychology began to be evaluated. As the years went by, several studies, tests and trials were carried out in which the psychological and physiological reactions that colors produce were proved.

Physiological effects of colors on people

Many essay writers who write about the psychology of color claim that colors generate quite complex physiological effects in people. Since the eye can absorb certain wavelengths and reject some, we are not biologically able to receive them. The psychological effects that have been verified are basically of two types, those that are defined as direct, those that make an environment seem cheerful or somber, cold or warm... and the indirect ones, related to the affections and subjective or objective associations of the individuals in front of the colors.

Another component that plays an important role in the appreciation of colors is the environment's lighting, since it can not only modify the color according to the way it affects the painted surface, but it can also "create an atmosphere" by itself.

What are the direct psychological effects of color?

The direct effects are those that affect us people more consciously and are those that transmit us more direct sensations in the situation we are living in: how a room seems to us warmer or colder, more cheerful or gloomy, etc.

What are the indirect psychological effects of color?

The indirect effects are those more subjective of the person, that is to say, his personal preference, for example the decision of which is his favorite color.

Psychological color theory according to Max Lüscher

Lüscher has found in practice that there are four primary psychological colors, which can be divided into two pairs: the heteronomous and the autonomous colors.

The heteronomous colors are Blue and Yellow, which represent night and day respectively. Thus, blue represents tranquility, passivity, rest and general relaxation of metabolic activity. In contrast, yellow suggests daylight, and represents the possibility of action, activity, and glandular stimulation.

The autonomous colors Red and Green represent the attack-defense activity of the organism. Red as external action directed to conquer and acquire. Green as self-preservation, defense against attack and survival.

How do colors affect the brain?

How does the illumination of an environment influence people's behavior?

Lighting has a total influence on people, on their behavior and mood. Natural light transmits and gives us life and provides us with well-being. In the case of artificial light, depending on the color of the light, warmth and intensity, it also influences our mood and attitude differently.

In homes and leisure areas, a more comfortable atmosphere can be achieved by regulating the intensity of the general lighting. 

Indirect, soft and diffused lighting helps to relax and automatically creates a more intimate atmosphere and even lowers the tone of conversations. 

However, a room with higher and more direct lighting generates more activity in people, which is more appropriate in some workplaces. The key is to adapt the light of the space to its use, varying the intensity and color of the light.

How do colorblind people see colors and how does it affect their daily lives?

I have had some color-blind patients who had difficulties with this problem due to their work as a clothing salesman, generating anxiety. 

The degree of affectation of this person was not very serious, and he did not present a lack of ability to discern any color (achromatopsia), but a slight degree of difficulty to distinguish some shades of red, green and certain blue tones that made him confuse them with green.

I helped him to reduce the anxiety generated by some situations he was experiencing and to take his difficulty more healthily and appropriately.

What is functional psychology or color psychology?

Functional psychology, also called functionalism, is a philosophical and psychological current that focuses on the fact that psychological activity and its affectation and behavior is explained and conditioned to the person's active adaptation to the environment.

What is the subjective perception of color?

The color does not vary, and it is what it is. What varies is the subjective perception of the person where his education, learning, preferences, etc. will influence.

What is it that determines that a person gives a certain function to a color?

Their learning, values, preferences, lived situations, etc. The life and lived trajectory of people interfere directly in their perception of colors, preferences and subjective tastes.

What is the meaning of each color?

The theories that relate chromatic choice to personality psychology are called functional psychology. 

The structure of a color is constant. That is, it always has the same "objective meaning." The "function," on the other hand, is the subjective activity towards color, which varies from person to person, and the interpretations people make are based on this.

The sensations of colors and the meanings of colors in us are:


It is the color of fire and blood, and it produces heat. It is the hottest of the warm colors and is related to passion, impulses and danger. It is the color of vitality and action, and it exerts a powerful influence on the mood of human beings.


It transmits seriousness, confidence and tranquility. It favors patience, kindness and serenity, although overexposure to it produces fatigue or depression. It is one of the favorite colors but difficult to use in decorating environments. It is ideal for children's rooms as it helps to soothe their energy. It is also recommended to balance the use of warm colors.


It is a sedative, hypnotic, anodyne color. It is effective in cases of nervous excitability, insomnia and fatigue. It brings peace, security and hope. It is used to neutralize the warm colors. Suitable for any environment, it is advisable to have in the bathroom towels or details in this color, as it purifies and energizes the body. It is the easiest color to visualize by the human eye.


It is an incandescent, fiery and bright color. It stimulates relaxation, vitality, fun and movement and is related to communication, balance, security and confidence. Because it is comforting and stimulating, it can both soothe and irritate. It is conducive to teamwork, helps interrelation and union.


It is the color of sunlight. It generates warmth, provokes good moods and joy. It is the most subtle of the warm colors, it acts as a positive energizer that does not become aggressive, giving strength. It is the most difficult color for the human eye to visualize.


Equalizes all things and does not influence the other colors. It can express elegance, respect, disconsolation, boredom, old age, it is a neutral and somewhat somber color. It helps to emphasize spiritual and intellectual values.


Traditionally black is related to darkness, despair, pain, formality and solemnity. It is the absence of color and of any luminous impression, it is the opposite of light as it concentrates all by itself. It is the color of sadness.


It represents mystery, it is associated with intuition and spirituality, influencing emotions and moods. It is also a somewhat melancholic color. In the past, because of its high price, it became the color of royalty and therefore, even today, it looks impressive, pompous and magnificent.


Its meaning is associated with peace, purity, and faith. Joy and neatness. For Orientals it is the color that symbolizes the afterlife or the change from one life to the next, it is a purifying color, it gives a sense of cleanliness and clarity. It helps to move away from the gloomy and sad. It represents divine love, stimulates humility and creative imagination.


Calm, weakness, tranquility.

Do colors really have different meanings?

Under my professional experience, I consider that you can create an environment that transmits peace and tranquility or a more stressful environment by simply painting the walls of a tone or another.

Do colors catalog a person's personality?

I don't think we can go that far; I think they have a certain influence on us but I don't think they condition our personality to such an extent.

What does it influence that we have a favorite color?

It influences that each one of us has our preferences just like we have a favorite soccer team or a favorite flower, it is the little things that mark our preferences and our essence as unique and unrepeatable beings.

Why do colors express different feelings or emotions?

As I said before, because of our previous learning, experiences, etc. that have been marking our tastes and preferences.

Which color is most easily remembered?

The color memory of human beings is rather poor. In fact, it seems that there is always an alteration between the real color when it is perceived and the sensation of color that is remembered as perceived. We do not remember colors as we see them. Although it seems that studies indicate that memory tends to exaggerate remembered values, leading us to remember bright, vivid colors more.

What is the brain's reaction to bright colors (red, yellow, orange)?

The phenomenon occurs as follows: the different wavelengths captured by our retina are converted into electrical impulses that reach the nervous system, specifically the hypothalamus, the governing center of hormonal and endocrine processes.

These signals trigger different states in the organism: sadness, joy, excitement, and anger.

What is the brain's reaction to dark colors (black, blue, purple)?

The scientific explanation: as the color is light and energy captured by our sense organs, this information stimulates the brain, which is totally connected to the eyes. In particular, black is related to darkness, despair, pain, formality and solemnity.

 It is the absence of color and of any luminous impression, it is the opposite of light because it concentrates everything itself. It is the color of sadness.

Why does a color provoke different feelings in people?

We have already commented that, many times, the color provokes feelings in people and is given by the meanings that society or culture grants to the different colors. 

In the West, for example, the color black is associated with death, red with passion, green with nature, blue with calm and rest, gray with sadness, and so on. In addition to the purely cultural issue, each person's learning, experiences, values, etc. also interfere.

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