Is there anyone who has never felt blue? Or been so in love they see the world through rose-coloured glasses? Colours take on broad meanings when used linguistically. They describe moods and they often reflect the soul. Almost everyone can name colour tones or shades that more or less agree with their state of mind at a given time. Psychologists call this visualized feeling.
“Colours are neurological stimulants of the nervous system,” said Professor Harald Braem of Germany’s professional association for psychologists in Berlin. He compares the effect with wave frequencies such as those used by radio stations, which reach different areas of the brain and from there exert an influence on the nervous system.
The traffic signal colour, red, immediately comes to mind. It evokes blood or fire and is therefore popular for warning lights.
“Red triggers feelings similar to stress,” said Braem, who previously worked as creative director for an international advertising campaign and who today is head of an institute for colour psychology. “It is universal. It works the same everywhere in the world.” The German author Goethe assigned certain characteristics to individual colours. The bright, warm and active colours yellow and orange are designated as stimulating, extensive and expansive, according to current terminology, said Ingrid Kraaz von Rohr, an alternative practitioner in Munich.
Violet and blue by contrast release a calm, soft, more introverted feeling. Red is between both and could belong to either depending on its intensity and colouration. Green is the balancing, steady middle of all colours.
“Colours belong to life,” said the author Wulfing von Rohr. They are expressions of vitality. “A person who feels they must go around only in black wants to protect himself and show nothing of himself.” Colours are just as important as light for physical and psychological well-being. Moods become happier and more positive the lighter a colour is. That also explains why many people feel downcast and listless during the darker months when there is less sun.
Travelling to a sunny location or going to a tanning salon are two remedies against the winter blues. Braem also has a less costly suggestion: “Put on a pair of glasses with orange-yellow lenses. They amplify the residual light and lighten up the surroundings.” People who want to do intellectual work should paint an entire wall orange, a colour tone that exhilarates. In a blue room, conversely, the body can easily start to shiver and humans then also begin to freeze emotionally.
Basically, however, colours have a calming effect, said Braem.
This effect is used by anthoposophic-orientated therapists to soothe people with nervous disorders. Some alternative practitioners use blue light beams as a supplemental application in treating people with neurodermatitis. The cool property of the blue is supposed to relieve the itchiness of the skin condition.
Red by contrast mostly animates: A room furnished completely in red in some psychiatric clinics helps depressed melancholics seriously in danger of committing suicide “retune,” said Braem.
In a home, red generally should be carefully allotted, said Kraaz von Rohr. It goes well when a dab of it is used in the bedroom where it can have a sexually stimulating effect.
It’s not advisable, however, for people with sleep disorders, who become easily irritable or who have a tendency toward hyperactivity.
In an office a touch of red can have a performance-enhancing effect.
While alternative practitioners and colour psychologists accept that a particular effect can be ascribed to every colour, medical doctors view the notions more critically.
“Colour therapies certainly are not a method that is useful scientifically or as evidence-based,” said Frank Schneider of the German society of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Nervous System Medical Science in Berlin. “However, we know that individual people are very prone to the designs of their own surroundings and thus feel better in rooms of certain colours at certain times.” According to his assessment, colour has no more effect than that.