What Is Color Therapy? Understanding the Psychological Effects of Color

By Angela Tague in Healthy Feeling

It's no coincidence that a shimmery blue ocean vista creates a sense of tranquility. It's science! Color affects our feelings and actions. If you've ever heard of color therapy, you might be wondering how exactly it works to boost your mood. Here's what to know.


Color Therapy 101

The colors we consume affect our psychological functioning. And, it's not a new concept. In 1810, poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe explained how humans perceive and emotionally respond to color in his book Theory of Colors.

Goethe wrote, "It has been circumstantially shown . . . that every colour produces a distinct impression on the mind, and thus addresses at once the eye and feelings. Hence it follows that colour may be employed for certain moral and aesthetic ends."

Research shows that color affects cognition, or the processing of knowledge through thoughts, experiences, and the senses, according to a study in Frontiers in Psychology. In addition, the study showed that color influences behaviors, including productivity and alertness.

How does this work? Think of an angry person. Their face turns red, and what follows is likely aggression. You later might associate red with anger thanks to a process known as social learning. We then process this information by adapting it to our world. Have you used the phrase "seeing red" to mean anger? When you refer to the color red or see it, you might feel emotions tied to power, upset, competitiveness, or dominance.

Color therapy is the intentional use of colors associated with psychological triggers to influence emotions. Color choices can also flaunt your personality and create desired responses, such as reducing stress.

Paint Palette


Using Color Therapy in Your Home

Let's put this idea into play by using colors in the home to guide our moods. As inspiration, I want to share another study published in Frontiers in Psychology. It was conducted in a university residence hall, where the interiors of six identical buildings were each painted a unique color: blue, orange, green, violet, red, and yellow.

Researchers discovered that the students' study habits and general moods were affected by the color of room they occupied. Blue rooms were most effective for feeling calm and working productively. Guess which rooms were the worst for cracking the books and feeling at ease? The anger-triggering red rooms.

When choosing a paint color, decor, furniture, and other home accessories, go beyond current trends. Use color therapy!

living room with orange accents

Here's a list of colors and the feelings and qualities they exude, with guidance from the paint color experts at True Value. Note that hue, brightness, and saturation also play a role. Vivid, bold colors elicit stronger responses than pastels.

  • Red: Confident, energetic, exciting, stimulating, courageous. Use red in a recreational area or for an accent wall in an office.
  • Orange: Wholesome, warm, enthusiastic, fruitful, friendly. Add orange accents to a dining room or living room.
  • Yellow: Happy, optimistic, inspiring, modern, sunny. Yellow is popular in kitchens and bathrooms.
  • Green: Natural, calming, relaxing, joyful, stable. Use pops of green in bedrooms, on porches, or on living room walls.
  • Blue: Cool, calming, loyal, friendly, strong, heavenly. Blue is a popular color for any room, especially bedrooms and living rooms.
  • Purple: Royal, luxurious, creative, wise, romantic, serene. If you're looking for a color for an office or foyer, try purple.
  • Pink: Feminine, innocent, romantic, tranquil. Pale pink hues are wonderful in children's bedrooms, guest bedrooms, and bathrooms.
  • Brown: Earthy, secure, content, simplistic, comforting. Try brown in TV rooms, living rooms, and porches.
  • White: Cool, refreshing, clean, contemporary, formal. White freshens any room, especially bathrooms and airy open-concept living room/kitchen combos.
  • Black: Elegant, mysterious, powerful, ambitious, sophisticated. Pair black with white in a home office, living room, or dining room.
  • Gray: Classic, elegant, disciplined, inviting. A soft, neutral gray is popular for kitchens, living rooms, and bedrooms.

How you paint your walls, decorate your bedroom, and furnish your living room affects how you feel in those spaces, thanks to how our brains process colors. For more clever ideas on decorating your space, follow the DIY Naturally board from @tomsofmaine on Pinterest!

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Why It's Good

Colors trigger feelings. By being mindful of the color choices in our homes and beyond, we can intentionally create a specific mood thanks to the psychology of colors. Choosing upbeat hues for common living spaces and tranquil tones for bedrooms might be just the shift your home needs to feel more balanced and cozy.