Surprising Research on the Color Blue

What does “blue” mean to you?

Posted Oct 29, 2018

Diane Dreher photo
Source: Diane Dreher photo

The color blue has many associations—metaphorically “feeling blue” as depressed, musically singing “the blues,” politically progressive “blue states,” or optimistic “blue sky” goals. But what effect does the actual color have on us?

Art historian Denis Dutton has noted that the favorite color in the world is blue, perhaps because it reminds us of clear blue skies or peaceful landscapes with lakes and rivers that offer us a sense of comfort and peace  (Dutton, 2009; see also Alter, 2012).

The color blue affects us both cognitively and affectively, making us feel more comfortable. A study in The Journal of Business Research revealed that shoppers found stores with a blue interior significantly more likable. They were more likely to spend time shopping and buying products there than in another store with an orange interior (Babin, Hardesty, & Suter, 2003).   

Blue may have a calming effect on us. It may even make our streets safer. There were dramatic decreases in crime after blue streetlights were set up in Glasgow, Scotland in 2000 and Nara, Japan in 2005 (Shimbun, 2008). More research is needed to fully understand these effects since the color blue may have conditioned associations, reminding people of police with their blue uniforms and, in the United Kingdom, the blue lights on police cars.

Since the 1990s, blue light call boxes have been installed around college campuses in an effort to improve campus safety, especially at night, although now many colleges are discontinuing their use in place of cell phone apps (Lucas-McEwen, 2009)

One surprising effect of blue lights may be suicide prevention. In recent years, Japan has experienced an increasing number of suicides at train stations as people jumped in front of oncoming trains. After blue lights were installed at 71 Japanese train stations between 2000 and 2010, a data analysis revealed an 84% decrease in the number of suicides (Matsubayashi, Sawada, & Ueda, 2012). Australians have been considering the blue light approach at their railroad stations as well.

How do the colors in your world affect your mood and behavior?

What does the color blue mean to you?

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This post is for informational purposes and should not substitute for psychotherapy with a qualified professional.

References

Alter,A. (2012). Drunk Tank Pink: And other unexpected forces that shape how we think, feel, and behave. New York, NY: Penguin Press.

Babin, B.J., Hardesty, D. M., & Suter, T. A. (2003). Color and shopping intentions: The intervening effect of price fairness and perceived affect. Journal of Business Research, 56, 541 – 551

Dutton, D. (2009). The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, & Human Evolution. New York,NY: Bloomsbury Press.

Lucas-McEwen, V. (2009, December 29). Should College Campuses Continue to Deploy Blue-Light Phones? Emergency Management: Public Safety and Homeland Security. http://www.govtech.com/em/safety/College-Campuses-Deploy-Blue-Light-Phones-Opinion.html

Matsubayashi T, Sawada Y, Ueda M. (2012). Does the installation of blue lights on train platforms prevent suicide? A before-and-after observational study from Japan. Journal of Affective Disorders. 8. 50-51. Published online 11 September 2012. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2012.08.018 , 2012 . http://www.antoniocasella.eu/salute/Suicide_Australia_2012.pdf#page=59

Shimbun, Y. (2008, December 11). Blue streetlights believed to prevent suicides, street crime. Seattle Times. https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/blue-streetlights-believed-to-prevent-suicides-street-crime/