The Color Matters? The Psychology of the Color Blue

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The Psychology of Color

According to Forbes, as well as psychological resources, color greatly influences human emotion (which, thereafter, affects behavior). Colors are said to even be powerful enough to make people perceive temperature differently–warm colors make a room feel warmer, cool colors make a room feel cooler. With this knowledge, owners and managers can improve business by taking into account their choice of color when making decisions (i.e.: how to communicate concepts, what color their buy-button should be, what kind of environment to work in). By having the right (sometimes subconscious) cues in place, leaders can help increase their team’s productivity, and can subtly influence customer behavior. In this article, we talk about the psychology of the color blue.

The Psychology of the Color Blue

Blue is the color of the sky and the sea, and is said to be favored by many (and preferred by men). This was confirmed in a 2004 study by the global marketing group Cheskin Added Value. More color data here.

As with most things in life, there is never a definitive answer, and always a spectrum. In this case, the psychology of the color blue involves positive and negative associations. We will go into these, as well as some examples in everyday life, and the implications for choosing this color in your marketing campaigns with us.

Positive Associations

Blue can bring out a wonderful arrangement of feelings, from serenity and creativity, to royalty and the divine. The following are the positive characteristics more commonly associated with the color blue.

Serenity: Peaceful, Calm, Tranquil

The color blue is generally regarded as a soothing, calming color because of its association with the sky and the sea. When you’re laying in the park, looking up on a beautiful day, the sky brings on a sense of calmness, and serenity. In this shade, sky blue is good for relaxation and meditation, as it lowers your blood pressure, pulse rate, and body temperature. It makes you feel good, which makes you more comfortable, creative, and verbal.

Depth, Wisdom, Intelligence

Think about how deep the ocean, and how vast the sky is. There are creatures you can’t see, and things beyond your sight. Blue communicates this depth and vastness of knowledge. It’s been said that the shade of light blue is best in bringing this depth forward to the senses (think of the water color in the shallow bottoms of the Caribbean sea). It assists in mental clarity, and stimulates thinking, and improved concentration. It’s a great color for work or study, as it relaxes and stimulates. Many businesses paint their office blue so their employees are more productive.

Cleanliness

Julius Cesar, in 55 B.C. took note of how Scottish warriors on the battlefield would smear blue dye on themselves. The unfamiliar color scared his soldiers–they’d never seen such a color on a person. Though, there was an underlying use as well. Unbeknownst to him (and possibly even the warriors), the source of the dye (a seldom known plant) is known for its antiseptic properties.

So let’s take a step back: The plant has antiseptic characteristics. The dye is made from the plant. Therefore, the dye has antiseptic properties. The color has been thought of as “clean” ever since. The psychology of the color blue continues to amaze me.

Also, check this out. There’s a specific breed of crab on the East Coast known for its (blue) blood. The blood is used by intravenous biomedical companies, as it contains a protein that signals when a fatal bacteria is present (by coagulating). This protein is so powerful, it’s reliable down to one part per trillion. So every year, these crustaceans are harvested for their blood and then returned, alive and well, to the sea.

Royalty

Blue pigments originate from the Woad plant, which wasn’t in the mainstream until the 11th century. Once it was however, French kings and those with wealth (in England, Germany, and France) rushed to obtain blue pigments to paint their family crests with the royal Marian blue (and often gold). Blue’s prestige has never really fallen since, and so many associate the color with this royalty.

Confidence: Trust, Reliable, Loyal, Secure, Orderly, Elite, Authority, Expertise, Stability, Safety

The darker shades of blue are said to be related to calm authority–as in the sense of Royal blue. Just as a palace serves authority, and protection upon a throne, a dark shade of blue inspires trust, and security. Now not every throne is loyal to it’s people, but in theory, the role of the lord of the land (in medieval times) was to protect, and provide shelter, and order. They created stability, by protecting ordinary people from being pillaged by wild, nomadic clans. This is why you’ll see security, and other companies that work in a chaotic environment wear or are marked with blue.

Divine

Almost everyone looks to the sky when you talk about the heavens. Yet it’s the molecules that fill our atmosphere that gives the sky it’s color. (In fact, our atmosphere reflects more violet rays, so the sky should appear more of a purple, but the cones in our eyes accept blue more than violet.)

And in almost every religion of the world, blue represents a connection with heaven. The Catholics paint the virgin Mary covered in Marian blue. The Sikhs wear blue turbans in order to symbolically open their minds. You can’t go to a Muslim mosque without encountering the color blue. Buddhists hold turquoise prayer beads. Orthodox Jews adorn themselves with blue prayer shawls.

The color blue is known for its purity, and ability to bring you into closer connection with the divine. This is just another aspect of the psychology of the color blue

Negative Associations

On the other side of the coin, if used incorrectly (or the wrong shade is used) blue can bring about undesirable emotions that can be counterproductive to your goals. (It would be best to choose a more suitable color for what you’re trying to do.) The following are the negative characteristics more commonly associated with the psychology of the color blue.

The Underworld

In some contexts, blue can be used to describe the hidden, darker side of society. Though the sources are few, the following are examples used to describe lesser desired things:

Theieves have been refered to as “Blue skins”. Pornography has been called “blue movies”. Police officers have been called “blue bellies”. Being “blue” is often associated with being drunk. Sometimes it’s spoken of “the blue blazes of hell”.

This isn’t really the most in-depth information found on the psychology of the color blue.

Snobby

Remember how we were talking about the royalty and authority of a deeper blue? Well, if your business environment isn’t chaotic, and your audience doesn’t need that kind of reassurance, this blue can make you look snobby. Further, some target markets aren’t looking for the corporate giant, or a company high up on their own pedestal. Using this color can make your down-to-earth customers run the other direction.

Aloofness, Lack of Emotion, Icy, Cold, Distant

As vast and deep the ocean/sky can be, you can get lost out there. Think about how well you can hear people underwater. Think about the difference between the waters in the Caribbean, versus the waters in Alaska. Much darker. Much colder. Some people have seen these (typically darker) blues as having less emotion, icy, cold, and distant. If you’re not looking to display authority, it’s probably best to keep things lighter, or stick to another color.

Unappetizing

Food doesn’t typically come colored blue, naturally (there is some, like blueberries, plums, and exotic fruit, but for the most part it’s rare). In fact, it’s usually a sign of artificiality, or is associated with mold, rot, or poison.

As well, in Hindu culture, the Hindu god Shiva has an eternally blue throat. The story goes that the gods were looking to score some nectar of immortality, found deep in the ocean. To retrieve it, they made a deal with the demons, and summoned a giant serpent to scour the ocean floor. To maintain control, they tied it to a mountain and let it do it’s thing. It churned up the sea, and provided many goodies–but each one was laced with the venom of the serpent. Eventually, the gods realized they had done more harm than good, as there was more poison in the world than treasures. So the gods went to Shiva the destroyer, and asked him to save them from annihilation. Shiva agreed, drank the poison, yet did not swallow it, and it sits, blue, to this day in his throat.

Unless your concept is weight loss, it’s probably best to stay away from blue (at least near the table) if your business involves food. (Unless of course you’re looking to increase profitability!)

Lonely, Alone, Isolated

Though the ocean is great, and most everyone loves it, nobody wants to be out there by themselves in the middle of it. (Ok, I take that back, maybe if you’re in a fully-stocked, personal yacht you might.) There are many other uses in our language that refer to the isolation and sadness that blue can bring–singing the blues, having the blues, even Picasso had a “blue” period. Thus, being all alone for a long period of time around blue can elicit the reflection of that loneliness, and can be depressing. Should your company involve your employees working by themselves for long hours without any human interaction (such as software development or IT work in the middle of the night), it’s probably best to stick to a color that doesn’t remind them of it.

It All Depends on the Shade

The ocean can be a beautiful, quenching paradise, and the sky can bring euphoria just by drinking it in. However, when you bring clouds in, and the waters turn dark, everything gets stormy. The darker you get, the more the emotions do. You want to find a shade that’s just right, that communicates exactly what you’re trying to get across.

Examples

The following are examples of the psychology of the color blue in everyday life:

The airline industry is rife with the problems of flying. There’s fears, sickness, no leg-room–general chaos. It’s no wonder that big airliners like Jet Blue, Continental, United, US Airways, Delta, Alaska–and tons of others–use blue in their color scheme to elicit feelings of security, stability, safety, and cleanliness.

As well, there are plenty of technology companies (i.e.: Best Buy, IBM, HP, Samsung, Phillips, GE) that look to communicate to their customers that they will receive precision and intellect from their products.

Again, when chaos is involved, blue usually comes to the rescue. Law enforcement, the United States Air Force, security companies, use blue in their color schemes to communicate trust, loyalty, stability, and safety. People are said to be “true blue” when they exemplify honesty, loyalty, and integrity.

You can see many Fortune 500 companies (GE, Ford, WalMart, The Weather Channel, Gap, American Express, ATT) using blue as well to communicate trust, reliabilty, and intellect.

Successful trial lawyers have been known to wear blue suits on court dates that they have to present final arguments, statements, summaries, or need to instill diplomacy or negotiation. The idea is that they will come off as more of an authority, and that they can be a trusted and reliable source of information.

Even architects use “blueprints”–the official and trusted source of direction in constructing a new project.

How To Use The Psychology of the Color Blue In Business/Marketing

Light or sky blue stimulates relaxation, and creativity, it’s best used to get people to open up. This is great for conference rooms, psychologist offices, and when you need people to expand their minds. It also is a favorite color and is liked by many, so it’s good for use in marketing to associate with good feelings.

Blue in general shouldn’t be used in spaces where you or another person are alone for long periods of time, since it can make you feel lonely. However, it can be great for businesses related to water, cleaning, ideas with the sky, or stability in a chaotic environment.

Royal blue is a good color for the effect of authority or prestige.

Dark shades could be used on contracts if you want to seem as though you are unwilling to compromise. On the same token, it may be used in the boss’ office so employees feel less likely to attain a raise if asked. (We like giving people money, just not when we can’t afford it.)

Disclaimer: Cultural Differences

As with any of these insights, it’s important to understand that the psychology of the color blue is not universal. Not everyone is going to react to color the same way. Different cultures may have different thoughts and feelings towards the same color.

For example, Russians look at sky blue and navy blue, as two distinct different colors (like orange and red). Interestingly, they see sky blue designated for homosexuals, just as one would call lesbians a “pink”. On the other hand, there are many Asian languages that don’t decipher between blue and green. Green traffic lights are still as green as they are in the West, yet they’re called “aoi”, which is technically their word for blue.

As well, individual experience may shape the way people feel about the same color. For example, if blue traditionally would make someone calm, but blue was their ex’s favorite color, this person could wind up feeling tense based on the neurological association with the color and the way their ex would make them feel.

 

These are for SEO (article still needs a revision or two)

The psychology of the color blue

The psychology of the color blue

The psychology of the color blue

 

Sources:

Forbes, EntrepreneurColor Psychology, Very Well, Fat Rabbit Creative, Tuned-In

Stewart, Jude. (2103.) ROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color. 1385 Broadway, New York, NY 10018: Bloomsbury Publishing USA. (pgs. ix-xx, 84-93)

Kory Schmidt is a local to Santa Monica, Ca, has a background in software development, and has an eye for marketing trends and insights. He graduated with a B.S. in Business Administration from California State University, Monterey Bay.

1 Comment
  1. Reply

    Thanks so much for the blog.Much thanks again. Will read on…

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