The Psychology of colour and persuasion header image

The Psychology of Colour and Persuasion

The Psychology of Colour and Persuasion:

How colour persuades the mind has become an interesting and controversial topic in marketing.

Chromology, that is the interpretation of the meaning of colour through science and psychology, has become a big part in a wide variety of tactics, from marketing endeavours, to artwork, to design plans for hotels and restaurants.

Although there is a lack of research, marketers have made claims that specific colours present in advertising, — whether it be branded logos, call-to-action buttons, or theme colours — can persuade a potential buyer to feel a specific way about their product. What is more, is that some even claim that this persuasion can be calculated and manipulated.

But is this true?

Is it possible for a brand, product, or a place to make you feel a specific way or desire a specific product? If so, how powerful is the influence of these associations in practice?

Let’s take a look.

What is Colour?

First we should examine what colour really is and how we, as humans, can see it.

Colour, by definition, is the property possessed by ways of how an object emits or reflects light and produces different sensations on the eye. In other words, colour is created in our eye.

Humans see three main properties of colour; namely hue, saturation and brightness. Hue is the attribution of colour involving it’s gradation, or tint, while the intensity or purity of colour is known as the saturation, and brightness concerns the lightness or darkness of a perceived colour.

When our eye sees an object, some of the light that hits this object is absorbed, while some of the light is reflected.  The colour of that object is determined by the wavelengths of the reflected light. Some colours have shorter, or longer wavelengths, and this is known as the visible spectrum.

eye prism

Reflection Perception


It was once thought that all humans see all colours the same and as result feel all colours the same, but recently experiments suggest that this is not true.

It was formerly suspected that neurons in the brain had a default way of processing the light that hits the cells in our eyes, and that our perception of the colour of the light resulted in emotional responses that were ubiquitous.

However, after research, neither appear to be true.

Evidence suggests that all humans actually do not see colour the same, that is, two humans looking at the same object may process the light in their eyes differently. Although the wavelengths of the emitted or reflected light remains the same, the resulting colour that is actually seen could be different for two people.

This is because of what are called ‘cones’, in our eyes, which are located within our retina and are responsible for colour vision. During the process of phototransduction, where light is turned into electrical signals and then sent to our brain (basically the process of seeing), these cones in our eyes process the wavelengths, allowing us to interpret colour.

This process is not uniform.

Essentially, my red may be your blue.

Mood Changer

Professionals from artists, to designers/decorators, therapists and psychologists have long studied how colours affect mood and insight feeling. They use this phenomenon to create work, content, or spaces that have the ability to cause physiological effects.  Colour schemes are implemented in hopes of inciting a specific feeling or mood in the consumer or patron.

Although perceptions of colour are subjective to the individual, there are some colour effects with a ubiquitous meanings, for example red tones are considered warm, while blue tones are considered cool, as so forth.

As such, it can be concluded that colour can have the power to affect or insight emotional responses, however, the elicit emotional response is different for each receptor or person viewing the colour.

The fact is, colour is far too dependent on individual experiences to be universally perceived. Colour is not perceived alone, but rather is always influenced by a combination of effects within the environment. Life experiences, cultural conditioning, individual vitamin intake, personal preference, and context all influence the effect colours have on us.

Conclusively, there are no scientific guidelines for choosing your brand, website or advertisement colours.  Many of the effects colours have on us are largely exaggerated, and further research is needed to fully understand the psychological and physiological effects colours can cause.  

By: Amberly Martin
Project Manager at Generation Digital Corp.

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