Deakin Communicating Science 2016

EES 200/101

Green with Envy

So the other day, my Mum was picking out a bunch of flowers from the garden. She looked at the flowers, and then looked at me and said “these look like a happy bunch of flowers!” and I thought to myself “happy? what makes them happy?”. She continued to mutter on about how brightly coloured they were, and I wondered why we associate bright colours with happiness, and dark colours with negative thoughts. Even in this paragraph, I haven’t actually told you what colour the flowers really were, but in most cases, those who are reading this would assume the flowers were some form of yellow.
So I’ve come here today to explore this idea with you.

In most cases, people associate yellow with happiness, red with anger, and blue with sadness. Take for example, if you’ve seen the movie ‘Inside Out’. Each character is a different emotion inside the mind. The yellow one is ‘Joy’, the blue one is ‘Sadness’, the green is ‘Disgust’, the red is ‘Anger’, and the purple is ‘Fear’. Now, if these characters all had different colours, you’d start to wonder why the directors thought it was a good idea to place, what you would think be, the ‘wrong’ colours with the character’s emotion.


Ideastesia is what it’s called, and it’s described as when humans associate two ideas or sensory inputs as if they are the same. Here’s what I mean.

Red and it’s associates.
The colour red is common throughout the whole world in terms of traffic lights, it’s the sign we use to tell people to stop or creates ‘defiance’. Red has the longest wavelength, and while it’s not exactly the most visible, it is the strongest of all colours, and has the illusion that it is closer than it seems, and therefore grabs our attention first. It stimulates us and makes our heartbeat more rapid, which can explain why it’s associated with anger. Think about when you’re really furious about something; your heart beats so much faster because of all the adrenaline rushing through you.
A study by researchers at Dartmouth University found that seeing the colour red as a ‘no’ stimulation could be innate, i.e. we are born with it.
The research showed that when monkeys were presented with humans wearing the colour red, they were avoided more frequent to those who wore colours such as blue or green. Correlating with this, it’s also shown that animals of the colour red/orange are usually predators and can be dangerous, or have toxins in them that could harm one and are avoided by many prey.

Take for example the Lion Fish. When you break it down, it may not look like an extremely dangerous fish, but this particular fish is striped with white and red/orange colours, and is also venomous.
If you’re not highly familiar with that specific animal, then think about a tiger. Would you really want to be running into that guy?


Blue and it’s associates.
Blue is associated with sadness, or calming processes. From a psychological standpoint, the presence of blue is calming to the mind and affects us mentally, rather than physically like red. Strong blues can induce clear thinking, while soft blues calm the mind and aid concentration. Blue objects don’t seem to be as close as red ones. Does this mean that if we study with the colour blue, we’re more likely to pay attention?
If you think about water, for example, you’re likely to think of the colour blue, and then associate the feelings that come with the water, with the colour blue. Most of the time, if you think about water, it’s freezing cold. When you look at the colour people’s lips turn when they’re cold, it’s blue, and so everything associated with the negative thought or sadness of being cold and uncomfortable, is with the colour blue. This idea is based off of previous experience.


This can also apply in terms of other colours, such as the bright flowers my Mum picked out. In fact, they were yellow! Think about how you feel on a cold day when a little slither of sun shines through the clouds and warms up your face for a few seconds, you can’t say that’s not a good feeling, and you feel happy.In cultures all over the world, the colour yellow is associated with happiness, sunshine, and warmth, and is also associated with deity in many religions.
Yellow has a high light reflectance value and therefore it acts as a secondary light source, and is also used as many warning signs throughout the world, such as ‘caution’ banners, and our middle Amber coloured traffic light.

So there are essentially two factors that determine why we associate different colours with different emotions; our personal experience throughout life, and our own body chemical reactions telling us to feel a certain way. Knowing all of this, maybe eventually everyone can channel into their inner colour scheme and possibly regulate their moods better, in order to live a better lifestyle. Worth a shot at least?

Colours. Who knew!



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This entry was posted on April 19, 2016 by in Burwood - Friday 2pm, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , .

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