Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Colour and Mood Study Brings Science to Aesthetics

There's a big study that's getting a lot of publicity today on colour and mood. It doesn't need any boost from me, but I wanted to note it because of the way it brings scientific perspective to what some might regard as just an aesthetic matter. According to the Daily Mail,

To work out how our moods colour our thoughts, the British researchers created a 'colour wheel' based on the charts used when choosing shades of paint.

They then asked hundreds of men and women, some of whom were depressed, which of the colours they were most drawn to, which was their favourite, and which best represented their mood.

The chart included black and white plus various shades of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, brown and pink.

Healthy volunteers in a 'normal' mood, usually chose yellow to reflect how they felt but people classed as anxious or depressed were drawn to grey, the journal BMC Medical Research Methodology reports.


Both the depressed and the non-depressed said they were most drawn to yellow.

As for blue, far from associated with sadness, it was voted the favourite colour, regardless of a person’s mood, said Professor Whorwell who worked with researchers from the University of Manchester.

The team believe the chart, which they have called the Manchester Colour Wheel, could be used to help diagnose depression.

This study also makes me think of Pantone's annual "Colour of the Year" designations. In December, the colour co. announced that the hue of 2010 was turquoise, which "Transports Us to an Exciting, Tropical Paradise While Offering a Sense of Protection and Healing in Stressful Times". The way Pantone delves into this stuff--into articulating what colours can mean--is both hilarious and fascinating, I find.

Colour wheel from Tiger Color


A.K. said...

Tee hee. This is fun, although it is hard to tell how good the science is. Did you notice that the lead researcher, Peter Whorwell, is identified as Professor of Medicine and Gastroenterology? One thing I know for sure: eating grey food is never good for my mood. But blueberries and lemons do make me happy.

Leah Sandals said...

Hey AK,

Yeah, I saw the sample size was what... 100? 200?

Funny, there's still something about the story that resonates... maybe it's the grey-food morality tale contained therein?

I think I was also drawn to it because I'm fascinated by the way decorative colour plays out in different cities. In Toronto and other urban centres, you could spend days cataloguing the ways people manage to combine grey and black to create unique outfits. And most of the cars in Toronto are monochromatic as well. While in St. John's they're all this wine-maroon color for some reason.

Anyway, point taken!

Nihili said...

"The Colour Wheel could also be used to help people with communication problems or those in whom English is not their first language."

Uh-oh. That's what I was afraid of. Just because a survey is done scientifically, that doesn't mean it has universal applicability. It's pretty well understood that colour has different meaningful resonances in varying cultures.

That said, I read a great case study in Olivers Sacks' The Anthropologist on Mars about a guy who lost all his colour perception. Everything appeared to him in black and white. For months he was severly, dangerously depressed, as if the life and meaning had gone out of everything. He had a hard time eating foods because they looked disgusting without colour. He could only eat stuff that was black and white to begin with. But other aspects of his perception were enhanced, interesting contrasts and a kind of sharpening of edges and detail. Eventually he got into it. Also he was a painter (poor guy) and so at first he couldn't work, but in the end he started making really great stuff in black and white. After a long period of adjustment he came to really like his new world.

Leah Sandals said...

Wow, that Oliver Sacks story sounds really interesting -- had never heard of it before. Thanks Nihili/Sally.