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The power of color makes sense when we look at how the human brain functions. Over one-quarter of the human brain is devoted to processing visual input from the environment. It’s important to deeply explore the gamut of colors and find what’s soothing, what’s exciting, what colors evoke what responses from you. Your mind will thank you!

Color affects human beings so powerfully that one article barely does the topic justice. However, the power of color makes sense when we look at how the human brain functions. Over one-quarter of the human brain is devoted to processing visual input from the environment. Humans are very visual creatures. Being able to tell the color of foods that were edible versus those that were poisonous was a life and death ability for our ancestors.

In the 21st century, the color of our personal context, our environment affects us mentally, emotionally, spiritually. Every human culture puts a slightly different spin on the symbolism of hues. Color is so important that a branch of psychology, aptly named “color psychology” investigates how different colors affect our moods and be used to lift us up, to calm us and help us relax, or to motivate us and raise our energy levels. “Color Therapy,” part of color psychology, looks at what shades and hues key best to a person’s responses so that the individual can learn to calm themselves, be inspired, or simply relax, based on the colors that surround them.

Colors are described in many ways, but one of the easiest ways to understand is “warmth.” Some colors seem warmer than others; some are cooler, and the “warm-cool” nature of colors exists on a continuum. For example, a cozy yellow seems more inviting than a gray-blue. If you’re creating an environment to help people relax and let down some of their psychological armor, a room painted in a welcoming shade of yellow would be a better choice than a vigorous red or bright orange. Be aware, though that colors contain many nuances based on the individual and that person's experiences. These nuances arise from two sources. First, the human eye combined with the brain’s processing power can distinguish among 10 million colors. That’s quite a few. Second, people create associations with different colors all throughout life, and some colors have already become paired with certain circumstances. Even though many variations of yellow are perceived as warm, inviting, and relaxing, a person who has had a horrible experience closely associated with lots of yellows may never find exposure to it comfortable.

Thus, all color charts and color-association tables are based on a general idea of how most people perceive most colors. To tailor the best colors for the best outcomes, color therapy and “color consultations” are so important when considering how to use colors as tools to get more out of our lives. Even something as simple as painting a room should involve more than a cursory glance at the color context. Lots of people say, “Oh, I’ll go with a beige or off-white. That goes with anything, and coordinating won’t be hard,” and while that might be true, such a drab motive yields drab results. A room that could become a vibrant hideaway for replenishing one’s resources and becoming centered, vibrant, and productive just fades away.

I touched briefly on how color may have affected our ancestors. Neurologically, the human brain connects directly to the retina, the rods, and cones at the back of the eye. Three types of cone cells give us our color vision. Other animals with more cone cells can see more colors. Try to imagine a new color that isn’t a mixture of the known! Hard to do, isn’t it? All the visual information of the word comes into the brain and gets processed in the occipital lobe. Color is interpreted there. It’s a brain-twister, but every object presents many more nuances and subtleties of color than we pick up on. Our eyes and brains can discern about 10 million shades, but how the brain makes the decision between “this is red” and “this is pink” comes down in large part to your own brain’s unique wiring.

Preference for one color over another falls into that realm of "taste" and aesthetics. Colors that one person might find liberating and energizing might appear too sharp, even painful to the eye to others. What’s calming to some is drab and dull to the other. We all know color appreciation is in the realm of perception and individual taste, but make no mistake: color affects the mind, it affects our feelings, and by lifting us up, or boring us to tears, our bodies are likewise affected. So it’s important to deeply explore the gamut of colors and find what’s soothing, what’s exciting, what colors evoke what responses from you. Your mind will thank you!


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