Colour is fascinating and what really interests me is how they can impact our sense of wellbeing. Since starting Brush + Botany I have been doing a lot of research into the emotional and physiological effects that colours have on us. Although there is a lot of compelling research into colours and the effects on our mind and body, the topic is often surrounded by controversy. I’ve been wondering if there is any scientific evidence to prove that colour really does influence our mood.
Colours are wavelengths of light. White light can be passed through a prism and separates into all the visible colours- violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange and red. The warm colours (red, orange, yellow) have a longer wavelength. The cooler colours (violet, blue, green) have a shorter wavelength.
Light is a form of energy which we receive through the light sensitive cells in the retina. These cells (called cones) at the back of the eye, send electrochemical signals to the visual cortex where we form images. We also know that retinal ganglion cells respond to light by sending signals to the hypothalamus. This part of the brain is responsible for the secretion of hormones which control a lot of our bodies self-regulation (including temperature, sleep, hunger and circadian rhythms.)
Our circadian rhythms work by exposure to different types of light and the release of the hormones melatonin and cortisol. Exposure to morning light (which is blue/green) prompts the release of cortisol which is stimulating and makes us feel more awake. In the late evening the blue light in sunlight is reduced and melatonin is released into our blood stream and we become drowsy.
The non image forming cells in the eyes are sensitive to light with short wavelengths which are the blue and green colours of the spectrum. This proves that there is a physiological mechanism in the body which if affected by light and colour. There are other factors that we need to consider when thinking about the emotional effects of colour, such as our psychological and cultural experiences.
However it is interesting to realise how many different ways colours do affect us. Colours can affect our perception of spaces (making them feel bigger or smaller), they can also influence our shopping decisions, they also hold strong symbolic meanings which differ from culture to culture.