Color Me Calm?

Man, I love green.  Can’t get enough of it, which is probably why I like your Earth so well – except at this time of year at this particular latitude.  But hey, it’s always red on Mars!

Bet you’ve got a few colors you like better than all the others.   You guys wrap yourselves in a world of color.  You’re drawn to particular colors when you choose your clothes.  You think of certain colors you’d like to decorate with, ‘cause they’d make you feel happy or cozy or safe. 

Color is important – for those of us in ebusiness, it’s an integral part of the way we “speak” to our visitors.  And people respond, even at a physiologic level, to colors.  We’ve talked a little about the role of color when it comes to the design of your Web site and about a cool way to select a harmonious color palette.

But we haven’t really delved into the associations between color and personality.

Until today.

Now, let me be frank for a minute (then I’ll go back to being The Grok).   The field of research regarding relationships between color and personality is, shall we say, under-plowed.  Statistically Significant types hedge about the validity of any instrument that purports to determine hard and fast connections between the two factors.

But there is a lot of anecdotal evidence, and even those who pooh-pooh the entire concept as metaphysical rubbish (colorists and winter people, indeed) find validity in studies that identify human emotional response to colors.

One of the most influential works on the psychology of color comes from Dr. Max Lüscher, a German who created the Lüscher Color Test in 1948 (his work was translated into English and published in a book of the same name in 1969).  Lüscher bases his test on eight colors:

“Each of the eight colors has been carefully chosen because of its particular psychological and physiological meaning – its “structure”.” 1

Let what he has to say about the effects and associations of each color stimulate your thinking about the ways in which the colors on your site influence your visitors – through what they suggest about you and what they “say” to them.2


Gray is the color of neutrality, “neither subject nor object, neither inner nor outer, neither tension or relaxation.”  Gray feels as though it is not colored, not dark, not light – a separation between two distinct entities, a demilitarized zone free from stimulus.   Gray communicates an element of non-involvement or concealment.  It’s a color that remains uncommitted and uninvolved.


This is the color of calmness, repose and unity, symbolically the color of sky and ocean.  Looking at blue relaxes the central nervous system – blood pressure, pulse and respiration rate all go down, which allows regenerative systems in the body to work on healing.  When folks are ill, the physiologic need for blue actually increases!  The physiologic associations with blue are those of tranquility.  The psychological associations are of contentment, gratification and being at peace. 


Beyond it’s symbolic associations with nature and growth, green is the color of “elastic tension,” often associated with the desire for improved conditions:  the search for better health, a useful life, social reform.  It expresses the will in operation, firmness, constancy and persistence.  It is a color that a person who possesses – or wishes to possess – high levels of self-esteem responds to strongly.  Green is associated with

“…many forms and degrees of “control,” not only in the sense of directed drives, but also as detailed accuracy in checking and verifying facts, as precise and accurate memory, as clarity of presentation, critical analysis and logical consistency – all the way up to abstract formalism.”


Physiologically, red makes blood pressure, pulse and respirations rates go up – it’s an energy-expending color.  Red’s associations are with vitality, activity, desire, appetite and craving.   Symbolically, red is blood, conquest, masculinity, the flame of the human spirit.

“It is the impulse towards active doing, towards sport, struggle, competition, eroticism and enterprising productivity.  Red it “impact of the will” or “force of will” as distinct from the green “elasticity of the will.”

The person who favors red “wants his own activities to bring him intensity of experience and fullness of living.”


Where red stimulates, yellow suggests.  It can elevate body rates as red does, but its effect is less stable.  Yellow is primarily the color of happiness, cheerfulness, expansiveness, lack of inhibition.  It is the welcome warmth of the sun and the glow of a spiritual halo.  While calming and relaxing, the color does suggest a desire for change, that things are never quite at rest – people who favor yellow may be very productive, but that productivity often occurs in fits and starts.


A combination of red and blue, violet “attempts to unify the impulsive conquest of red and the gentler surrender of blue, becoming representative of “identification”.”  Purples are mystical, suggesting sensitive intimacy, union, enchantment, the blurring of thought, desire and reality.  Violet represents a longing for wishes to be fulfilled and a desire to charm others.

"Violet can mean identification as an intimate, erotic blending, or it can lead to an intuitive and sensitive understanding."

Because it is so strongly associated with the idea of the world as a magical place and the need for wish-fulfillment, a preference for violet can communicate some degree of vulnerability or insecurity, perhaps a need for approval.


Symbolic of “roots,” hearth, home and family security, brown is a darkened mixture of red and yellow, with reduced qualities of these colors.  The impulses of brown are not as volatile as red, not as restless as yellow – yet the color has subtler warm, welcoming and sensuous qualities.  When brown is favored, it suggests an increased need for “physical ease and sensuous contentment, for release from … discomfort.” 


“Black represents the absolute boundary beyond which life ceases, and so expresses the idea of nothingness, of extinction.  Black is the “No” as opposed to the “Yes” of white. … white and black are the two extremes, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”

With its strong associations of renunciation, surrender and relinquishment, black is often seen as a negative color.  But it can emphasize and enforce the characteristics of the color it surrounds.

The Lüscher Color Test theorizes that if colors generate emotional responses and associations, then the colors people prefer could say something about their current emotional status.  The folks at ColorQuiz have set up a site that allows you to take a test partially based on Lüscher’s research.  Why not have some free fun with color and personality?  You might find yourself surprised with the results.

In the mean time, reflect on how your visitors might be reacting to the colors on your Web site.  Maybe it’s time to go check out those paint chip samples?


1 All quotations from:  The Lüscher Color Test.  Dr. Max Lüscher.  Ian Scott, translator and editor.  New York:  Random House.  1969.

2 I have simplified the colors into categories. In the spirit of academic propriety, Lüscher’s comments are specific to the colors he identifies in the test, which you can see for yourself at ColorQuiz.  Lüscher’s red is an orange-red rather than a blue-red, his blue is dark rather than light.  His green has a tinge of blue. 

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