Would you believe me if I told you that color has an effect on suicide rates?

Would you believe me if I told you that color has an effect on suicide rates? As a matter of fact, overlooking the Thames River in London is a gloomy-looking black bridge known as the Black Friars Bridge, a favorite leaping off point for despondent citizens. Color consultants studying the situation suggested that the city paint the bridge another, more soothing color. The bridge was repainted and immediately the suicide incidences declined in number.
Many ancient people believed that color possessed magical powers. In researching the psychology of color I have found that even today we assume there is a link between color and our minds. For example, the optimist we say views the world through “rose colored glasses”. When a person is sad we say they are in a “blue” mood. A jealous person is said to be “green” with envy. And now, scientists are discovering that certain colors do indeed have an influence on our bodies, moods and behaviors. Today I will inform you about three aspects of color that affect all of us. We will look at the concept of color, the effects of color on moods, and finally, the psychological differences between colors.
First, what is the concept of color? Alexander Schauss, the director of the American Institute for Biosocial Research tells us that “colors are electromagnetic wave bands of energy. Each color has its own wave length and can be duplicated by combining two other colors or wavelength.” These wave bands stimulate chemicals located in your eyes, sending impulses or messages to the pituitary glands near the brain. These glands regulate hormones and other physiological systems in your body. Stimulated by our response to colors, glandular activities can alter your mood, speed up your heart rate, and increase brain activity. As you can see, the colors that surround us can affect our hormones and the secretions in our bloodstream.
Second, these secretions also affect our moods and affect the way we react and respond to other people and the situations in which we find ourselves. In general, we find dark colors heavy and foreboding, while we see light colors as not only cheerful, but physically light as well. Bonnie Bender, color marketing manager at Pittsburg Paints, and an authority on color psychology, reports on an experiment that tested the psychological effect of paint on worker productivity. Researchers painted heavy boxes white and light boxes black. When tested, the workmen had considerably more trouble lifting the light, black boxes than the heavy, white ones.
Marcella Graham, medical technologist, color consultant and interior designer, describes an equally dramatic example of the use of color to lift depression and stimulate physical activity. She was recently called in for a consultation on staff and patient apathy in a hospital. When she arrived at the hospital, she found the entire building painted light and medium chocolate brown and two shades of grey-green. Graham’s advice was to paint the hospital, floor by floor using pumpkin orange, strawberry pink, emerald green and lavender. To simply put in pink curtains or orange bedspreads would not do it: color has to be massive to produce its effects. Patient response to the brilliant colors was immediate and positive. Elderly men began getting out of bed daily, shaving and dressing for breakfast. Female patients began circulating and visiting in the halls and requested combs, lipstick and other makeup items. Even staff morale picked up.
Finally, if we now know that colors exert a powerful force on our mental and physical health, it is important to know about their psychological influences. Here is a spectrum of colorful facts. Consider how your color environment affects how you react and respond to others.
The color red creates the effect of anxiety. The red family of color includes everything from maroon to crimson to pink (although pink-red mixed with white seems to have properties of its own). Several years ago, Robert Gerard, a doctoral student at the University of California, studied the physiological reaction of people in a colored room. He measured their blood pressure, respiration rate, heartbeat, muscle activity, eye blinks and brain waves. The rate of activity of all these physical indicators went up when the people were placed in a red room. Brain-wave activity, which showed an immediate response, stayed high for more than ten minutes. People who were already anxious found red even more disturbing than those who were previously calm. When the same people went into a blue room, all the physical indicators went down.
Pink is a restful color. It can even convey a purity that makes people reluctant to damage it. In a study done by graduate students at Texas Wesleyan College, children were kept in different colored corrals and given a variety of playthings, including paints and crayons. The children eagerly decorated all the corral walls except the pink ones, which remained virtually spotless. When the researchers regrouped the children to see if those youngsters who painted the most graffiti would behave differently in another group, the results were confirmed. Pink walls effectively kept off graffiti.
Alexander Schauss conducted a study of 153 prisoners at the U.S.Naval Correctional Center to show the effect of a color known as Baker-Miller pink. The study showed that this shade of pink can curb aggressive tendencies and actually reduce physical strength. When prisons began using the color in cells, some were able to lower the number of guards on duty. At latest count, more than 1400 hospitals and correctional institutions in the U.S. are using some shade of pink for its tranquilizing effects.
The color blue has also been found to evoke a mood of tranquility and serenity. Almost any shade of blue will do it, from cobalt to sky blue to sapphire. A new study done at the University of Alberta, Edmonton Canada, investigated the effect of a blue surrounding on a class of behaviorally disturbed children, some of whom were blind. The researchers first measured the children’s baseline heart rates, respiration, and other physiological indicators. Then the walls of the classroom were painted light and dark blue. All the physical indicators went down and the children became noticeably calmer- even the blind children! Researchers and teachers who observed the children during the one-month “blue paint” period were amazed at how calm they were. When the classrooms were repainted their original brown and yellow, the children’s heart rates, respiration and pulse went back up and hyperactivity resumed. Schauss says, “The fact that the blind children experienced this effect provides strong evidence that color has a direct biochemical pathway to the brain. It works as long as the retina of the eye is attached to the brain. However, if a blind child closes his eyes so that color cannot strike the retina, the effect won’t work”.

Yellow is a color that lifts the spirits and makes people feel peppy and optimistic. It is the color of highest visibility. If you glance quickly at a collage of colors, yellow will be the first one you perceive. Tests show that yellow raises blood pressure, pulse rate and respiration, although not as consistently as red does. The energizing effect of yellow was illustrated in a study by a Swedish scientist, Dr. Oscar Brunler. Mice placed in slate blue boxes became listless and inactive. When Brunler switched them to yellow boxes they b became alert and active. Yellow’s activating properties work on humans too. Dr. Watch of the American Color Association reports that a study involving preschool children under age five showed that out of a room filled with toys, children most frequently grabbed the yellow ones. According to Bonnie Bender, a telephone company in London found that when the interior of a phone booth was painted yellow, people finished their conversations faster and freed the booth for other customers.
Today we have learned some interesting facts about the impact of color. First, colors are electromagnetic wave bands of energy, each having its own wave length, which is sent as a message to our brain. Second, our moods are affected both positively and negatively by our perceptions of the colors around us. And third, we can see that colors have different psychological influences upon us. They can irritate or soothe us, speed up or slow down our heart rate, depress us, or cheer us up.
So, the next time you are trying to decide what color to use, whether it be painting that living room or choosing a piece of clothing. I suggest that you consider how it will “color” your thinking as it colors your world

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