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READ: Cultural Contexts of Color

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Site: Mountain Heights Academy OpenCourseWare
Course: Advanced Graphic Design Q2 v2014
Book: READ: Cultural Contexts of Color
Printed by: Guest user
Date: Sunday, 28 May 2017, 12:31 AM

1 Western Culture

Here are some common cultural connotations attached to colors in Western cultures, particularly in the United States:

ColorPositivesNegatives
Gray Elegance, humility, respect, reverence, stability, subtlety, timelessness, wisdom Anachronism, boredom, decay, decrepitude, dullness, dust, pollution, urban sprawl
Red Passion, strength, energy, fire, love, sex, excitement, speed, heat, leadership, masculinity, power Danger, fire, gaudiness, blood, war, anger, revolution, radicalism, aggression, stop
Blue Seas, skies, peace, unity, harmony, tranquility, calmness, coolness, confidence, water, ice, loyalty, conservatism, dependability, cleanliness, technology, winter Depression, coldness, idealism, obscenity, ice, tackiness, winter
Green Nature, spring, fertility, youth, environment, wealth, money (US), good luck, vigor, generosity, go, grass Aggression, inexperience, envy, misfortune, jealousy, money, illness, greed
Yellow Sunlight, joy, happiness, optimism, idealism, wealth (gold), summer, hope, air Cowardice, illness (quarantine), hazards, dishonesty, avarice, sissification, weakness
Purple Sensuality, spirituality, creativity, wealth, royalty, nobility, ceremony, mystery, wisdom, enlightenment Arrogance, flamboyance, gaudiness, mourning, profanity, exaggeration, confusion
Orange Buddhism, energy, balance, heat, fire, enthusiasm, flamboyance, playfulness Aggression, arrogance, flamboyance, gaudiness, overemotion, warning, danger, fire
White Reverence, purity, snow, peace, innocence, cleanliness, simplicity, security, humility, marriage, sterility, winter Coldness, sterility, clinicism, surrender, cowardice, fearfulness, winter, unimaginative
Black Modernity, power, sophistication, formality, elegance, wealth, mystery, style Evil, death, fear, anonymity, anger, sadness, remorse, mourning, unhappiness, mystery
Brown Calm, depth, natural organisms, nature, richness, rusticism, stability, tradition Anachronism, boorishness, dirt, dullness, filth, heaviness, poverty, roughness

2 Other Cultures

Various cultures see color differently.

  • In India, blue is associated with Krishna (a very positive association), green with Islam, red with purity (used as a wedding color) and brown with mourning.
  • In most Asian cultures, yellow is the imperial color with many of the same cultural associations as purple in the west.
  • In China, red is symbolic of celebration, luck and prosperity; white is symbolic of mourning and death, while green hats mean a man's wife is cheating on him.
  • In Europe colors are more strongly associated with political parties than they are in the U.S.
  • In many countries black is synonymous with conservatism, red with socialism, while brown is still immediately associated with the Nazis.
  • Many believe that blue is universally the best color as it has the most positive and fewest negative cultural associations across various cultures.

Studies have shown most colors have more positive than negative associations, and even when a color has negative association, it is normally only when used in a particular context.

People in many cultures have an automatic negative perception of the color black, according to some researchers. Thomas Gilovich and Mark Frank found that sports teams with primarily black uniforms were significantly more likely to receive penalties in historical data. Students were more likely to infer negative traits from a picture of a player wearing a black uniform. They also taped staged football matches, with one team wearing black and another wearing white. Experienced referees were more likely to penalize black-wearing players for nearly identical plays. Finally, groups of students tended to prefer more aggressive sports if wearing black shirts themselves.

This lesson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License based on work at jaredstein.org.