The Psychology of Color: How Color Influences Audience

Key Takeaways from this article:

  • What is colour psychology?
  • Core physiological and psychological concepts related to colour psychology
  • Colour perception and interpretation
  • Impact of different colours on audience
  • Key colour models – RBG, CMYK


“Colour is a power which directly influences the soul.” – Wassily Kandinsky, painter and art theorist.

Imagine an apple, the sky, your favourite mug, your favourite food place, and your favourite streaming platform. What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you read the above line? What colour do you associate these things with? Here your brain acts as a prism, splitting light into a spectrum of emotions. This is colour psychology. This science explores how emotions paint our world and influence our perceptions and decisions.

Let’s understand this better with a simple real-world example.

Have you visited McDonald’s recently? Which is your favourite burger? McAloo Tikki or McSpicy Chicken? Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Before you go in and start your journey to food heaven, take a step back and try to imagine the McDonald’s logo. The big M is yellow with some red under it. Mcdonald’s specifically uses yellow and red because these colours make you hungry and encourage you to buy their products, while also making you satisfied. This is one of their great strategy. Remember, it’s nothing but colour psychology.

Core Concepts:

Naturally, colours aren’t present just for pretty visuals. They hold a huge amount of power regarding our thoughts, emotions, and physical responses. When we understand colour psychology and related physiological mechanisms, we better appreciate its subtle yet powerful influence. This knowledge can be applied to various professional fields like marketing, design, healthcare, and education. Colours help in the creation of environments and experiences that bring out desired responses and influence behaviour.

Let’s understand the physiological and psychological mechanisms related to colour psychology.

Physiological Mechanisms

1. Neurotransmitters and hormones – There is a natural link between colours and neurotransmitters. Different colours trigger the release of various neurotransmitters.

One such example is the colour “Red”. It releases adrenaline along with increasing alertness and heart rate. It acts as a big red stop sign where your body instantly becomes aware of your surroundings. It is a buy now symbol due to the release of dopamine and increases attractiveness towards products due to the release of oxytocin. Netflix, Levi’s, Mitsubishi, and YouTube are some examples.

2.Brainwave activity – Brain waves are the rhythmic electrical voltages that travel across different regions of the brain. Studies have proved that different colours produce different effects on the activity of brain waves.

For example, the colour green increases theta waves which are linked to relaxation and creativity. Red, on the other hand, increases beta waves that are associated with alertness and excitement.

Psychological mechanism

1.Individual differences – You must have heard that every individual is different and produces different responses. This makes them unique in their experiences and preferences. And this is what shapes their colour perception. Something that evokes calmness in one person can trigger anxiety in another.

2.Emotional impact – It is a commonly known fact that colours have the power to impact our emotions. Warm colours like red and orange evoke feelings of excitement, energy and sometimes aggression. While the colours like blue and green, on the other hand, bring out emotions of calmness, peace and trust.

Colour and Culture:

While colour psychology has some fascinating universal associations, it also plays a crucial role in culture and individual experiences. Let’s understand some of these variations:

1.Cultural variations:

Colour symbolism: Everyone must have observed that colours hold different meanings across cultures. For example white symbolises purity and is used in weddings in Western cultures. While in some cultures it signifies mourning.

Religious associations: Colours have deep religious significance. Saffron represents holiness in Hinduism, while the colour gold symbolises wealth and prosperity in Chinese culture.

Historical influences: Colors have a deep cultural history that has come from different perceptions of colour. Red might symbolise revolution in some countries, while in other countries, it might represent good luck due to related historical events and significance.

2.Individual variations:

Personal experience: As every individual has a unique set of experiences, they perceive colours differently. For some, yellow is associated with a happy childhood, while someone else may relate it to illness.

Gender differences: It’s the age-old tradition where the colour blue symbolises a boy whereas the colour pink symbolises a girl. Studies have also suggested subtle variations in colour preferences between genders. Men might gravitate towards cooler colours like blue, while women might prefer warm colours like red. While understanding this, it must also be noted that these are trends and not absolutes. So not all but most may relate to it.

Age differences: With age comes different perceptions of colours. A human’s ability to distinguish certain colours may diminish as their age increases and thus their preferences might shift.

But why is understanding these variations so crucial?

It is so for effective communication and marketing across cultures in individuals.

This is achieved because:

  1. It helps in avoiding unintentional offences. Using colours with negative connotations in a specific culture might backfire, so understanding the meaning behind all colours holds great value while curating campaigns.
  2. It helps in tailoring messages for marketing campaigns so that they resonate with the target audience and their culture and preferences.
  3. It aids in enhancing inclusivity considering individual variations helps create designs and products accessible to a wider range of people.

Demystifying the rainbow of Colour psychology:

Colour cause of fundamental value in the world of visuals and how it is represented and manipulated is what we will dive into further.

A colour model is a system that defines, categorizes and reproduces colours in a structured way. There are different colour systems like RGB (Red, Green, Blue), also called the addictive model and CMYK ( Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key/Black), also known as the subtractive model.

1.RGB (Red, Green, Blue) – The Addictive Model

This model combines red, green and blue light to create a wide range of colours. Imagine shining red, green and blue light on a dark surface. As the intensity of each light increases the resulting colour changes.

It is used in digital displays like monitors and TVs. These primary colours are used in varying intensities to create a spectrum of colours that we can see on screens. Understanding this model is fundamental for web design and development as it defines the colour palette used in websites and online applications. It also helps in understanding light and colour mixing. This model reflects how light behaves. By combining coloured light a brighter and additive colour could be created.

2.CMYK ( Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key/Black) – The Subtractive Model.

The CMYK colour model combines cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks for printing. It’s subtractive, creating colours by reducing light from a white background. Imagine printing layers of transparent coloured inks onto white paper. As one adds more ink, the resulting colour becomes darker and less reflective.

It is used in printing and physical media as its foundation colour. Printers use these to create a vast range of colours on paper and other physical media. Black is often added because mixing cyan, magenta and yellow ink doesn’t produce a true black colour. It also aids in ink mixing and colour subtraction as it reflects how pigments or inks work. This mix subtracts light and results in darker less vibrant colours. It is also important in design and print production as it ensures that digital designs translate accurately to physical prints.

The colour wheel is a visual representation of colour relationships based on a chosen model. It aids with choosing complementary or analogous colours to produce visually pleasing combinations. It also helps in understanding colour psychology. It is often used to depict the emotional association of different colours aiding in design decisions. It is also useful in colour mixing and selection as it provides a road map for mixing colours in both the additive and subtractive models.

Colour psychology in action - Real-world examples:

Now that we have explored the science and psychology behind colours, let’s see how this translates into practical applications across a variety of fields.

1.Marketing and advertising:

Fast food chains – The famous fried chicken brand KFC would be a great example. Their strategic use of red and yellow lures their customer. It elicits cheerfulness at what it creates with its irresistible hunger-inducing colour and food palette. The red in its logo brings the feeling of urgency, appetite stimulation and excitement, whereas yellow evokes cheerfulness, warmth and positivity.

The combination of red and yellow triggers hunger cues and encourages quick indulgence. Some other examples are Coca-Cola and Starbucks.

Luxury brands – Luxury brands like Channel use black and minimalistic designs. This is done to evoke sophistication and exclusivity, attracting high-end customers.

Tech companies – Brands like Facebook and Twitter (now X) use blue logos and branding to instil trust and reliability, which is crucial for such platforms.


Websites: E-commerce platforms often use green colour for their buy buttons. This is a conscious action that signals the customer’s subconscious for safety and to encourage purchase.

Presentations: Using contrasting colours for example blue for text on a white background improves readability and focus.

Interior design: Warm colours, like orange, in a restaurant create a welcoming atmosphere, whereas blue in offices is used to promote productivity.


Presentation: We all must have made multiple presentations in our lives. How do you highlight important information? By using the colour red, it highlights and grabs attention while also emphasizing urgency.

Infographics: It is a common observation of the use of complementary colours in infographics to create a visually appealing and easy-to-understand graphic.

Email marketing: This is a common and growing tactic in the field of marketing. Subject lines with emojis for contrasting text colours are used in emails so that those sentences stand out in the recipient’s inbox.

4.Personal branding

Clothing choices: One of the necessities in our lives is clothes. Wearing clothes that flatter one’s skin tone and personality boosts confidence and creates a positive impact. To do so, colour psychology plays a crucial role.

Social media presence: Utilising a constant colour palette across all platforms creates a recognisable brand identity adding the brand to be on the mind of its customers and quick recognition.

Portfolios: Sometimes colours used in a portfolio reflect one’s expertise and personality. It also helps to enhance the personal brand experience.


In this chromatic journey, we explore how colours dance on the canvas of our minds, shaping emotions, decisions, and memories. From the fiery red that ignites urgency to the tranquil blues that cradle trust, each hue whispers secrets to our subconscious.

Marketers, designers and storytellers use this knowledge as their artistic brush. Their choice of colours is not arbitrary but a deliberate choreography. Colour psychology isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula. While some universal associations exist, cultural and individual differences play a significant role. By acknowledging these variations, we can leverage the power of colours more effectively, fostering better communication, understanding, and inclusivity.

Understanding RGB and CMYK models is crucial for anyone working with digital and physical colour creation or reproduction. Colour wheels, based on these models, provide a valuable tool for selecting harmonious and impactful colour combinations.

By understanding these examples and the underlying colour psychology, you can leverage colour strategically in your work to elicit desired emotions (e.g., excitement, calmness, trust), influence behaviour (e.g., encourage purchases, improve communication) and Create a memorable brand identity.

Next time you see a crimson sales sign or sip coffee in a mosque green cafe, pause. Decode the hues and feel their resonance. And know that behind every shade lies a symphony of intentions.

By understanding both the physiological and psychological mechanisms, we gain a deeper appreciation for the subtle yet powerful ways colours influence our thoughts, emotions, and actions. This knowledge can be applied in various fields, from marketing and design to healthcare and education, to create environments and experiences that evoke desired responses and influence behaviour.

Now the time has come to embrace the kaleidoscope, and colour your narrative with purpose, passion and attach a chromatic magic.

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Komal Salagare

Content writer

Juhi Jaiswal


Bhakti Mangrulkar

Graphics Editor

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