Color As an Influencer
What impact does color have on our perceptions, behaviors, and attraction?
Posted Dec 31, 2019
Whether we are aware of it or not, we are bombarded and influenced by the different colors in our environment. Some may stand out, and we may be consciously aware of their effect on us. However, others seem to disappear into the background and influence us in relatively imperceptible ways.
Discussing the relationship between colors and the way we react to them is quite complicated because there are many variables that come into play, such as personal preference, the environmental context, culture, etc. For example, it may not be the color itself that affects us, but the associations that we make for each color. These associations are influenced by society and are learned (ex. blue for boys and pink for girls). Despite the potential confounds, many researchers have sought to investigate the impact that color has on us.
Color, Perceptions, and Behaviors
Color affects our perceptions and behaviors. There is an entire subfield of psychology and consumer research/marketing that focuses on the role color plays on consumers’ perceptions of, and likelihood to a buy, a product. For instance, the color that is selected for a logo may make a difference in how the person views a product or their satisfaction or experience with it. In addition, people tend to associate certain colors with brands.
A 2006 study showed that colors can bring meaning to a brand (Bottomley & Doyle, 2006). The authors of this study note that visual equity, or the look and feel of the brand, "contributes towards brand recognition, enabling a brand to stand out on the supermarket shelf” (Bottomley & Doyle, 2006, p. 63).
Singh (2006) has also shown that color both helps us differentiate products and can impact our moods and feelings. Singh notes how different colors can influence consumer behavior as well. For example, yellow is “employed by fast-food moguls to hijack customers’ interests—they gain customers’ attention, increase their appetite, and encourage them to eat” (Singh, 2006, p. 785). Your desire to indulge in a burger every time you see the golden arches may not solely be the result of enjoying fast-food but the color of the arches and the association you make with them as well.
Color and Attraction
While the research linking color to marketing covers the full spectrum, most of the research examining color and attraction is focused on the color red.
Eliot and Niesta (2008) examined the so-called "red effect" and reported evidence that red influences perceptions of attractiveness. Specifically, the researchers found that a woman wearing red or shown in front of a red background was rated as more attractive than a woman wearing blue or green. Niesta, Kayser, Elliot, and Feldman (2010) reported finding that men were more likely to ask women wearing a red shirt intimate questions (compared to a green shirt) and were more likely to sit closer to a woman in a red shirt (compared to a blue shirt).
It is important to note that subsequent studies failed to find such an effect. For example, a replication study by Lehmann, Elliot, and Calin-Jageman (2018) demonstrated that results for the red effect are mixed. They did, however, find that when photographs of faces were altered to increase redness, the person was rated as more attractive. This suggests that there may be an effect when red is intrinsic to the stimulus being rated.
Lehmann et al. (2018) caution that if there is an effect of red on attraction it is likely very small. They call for additional research with larger sample sizes, as well as an analysis of all of the studies that have failed to find a red effect.
Despite the mixed research, it is clear that marketing has continued to capitalize on the red-attraction/love connection. Red is often linked to Valentine’s Day, and it is almost a challenge to purchase a card, box of chocolates, or another love-related gift that doesn’t include this color. In fact, people often associate red with passion and warmth (Kaya & Epps, 2004).
Importance of Colors
The effect that color has on people and their decision-making is undoubtedly important. While marketing research focuses on a broad array of colors, when it comes to attraction, most of the empirical work had focused on the color red, though more research on this connection is needed. Having a better sense of how colors can influence our perceptions and decisions not only makes us more knowledgeable consumers but gives us a deeper look into how we can be influenced.
Bottomley, P. A., & Doyle, J. R. (2006). The interactive effects of colors and products on perceptions of brand logo appropriateness. Marketing Theory, 6(1), 63-83.
Elliot, A. J., & Niesta, D. (2008). Romantic red: Red enhances men's attraction to women. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(5), 1150.
Kaya, N., & Epps, H. H. (2004). Relationship between color and emotion: A study of college students. College Student Journal, 38, 396–405.
Lehmann, G. K., Elliot, A. J., & Calin-Jageman, R. J. (2018). Meta-analysis of the effect of red on perceived attractiveness. Evolutionary Psychology, 16(4), 1474704918802412.
Niesta Kayser, D., Elliot, A. J., & Feltman, R. (2010). Red and romantic behavior in men viewing women. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40(6), 901-908.
Singh, S. (2006). Impact of color on marketing. Management Decision, 44(6), 783-789.