It surprises me that people can still find certain colours annoying or enjoyable, or indeed, that any particularly strong emotional reaction could occur merely from seeing certain colours. Possibly red does remind us of blood. Possibly white does remind us of the cold. Possibly yellow does remind us of heat. Possibly green does remind us of vegetation and health. Possibly black does remind us of the night and uncertainty and even death.
However it is less the colours concerned but how they interact with one another that is of importance. Shapes are far more psychological than colours. Colours can tell us very little. Textures and patterns on the other hand can tell us a great deal. Colour is but one part of a much greater iceberg of information our senses digest.
Shade has a greater impact. Darkness and light have obvious connections with night and day, and visibility itself. Proximity of one colour to another also creates certain visual effects purely by itself and without shape or form required. But it is with connection with shapes and forms that colours play roles, as supporting actors, in a great play.
Take architecture for instance. The Sydney Opera House is a cream colour, almost white when viewed from afar. The windows are a darker colour and give it a distinct appearance like a mutated snail from outer space. Or take art. Can one imagine the Mona Lisa having quite the same effect if she were a blonde? Or had blue highlights? Or wore a lime green shirt or a digital watch? Precisely. Colour plays a large role in the way we interpret things, but not necessarily because of some primitive connection with food shelter or war.
There are some psychological effects one can achieve with colours though, especially if they change or are animated. The original Doctor Who opening sequences were in black and white, and were all about form. When the series went to colour in 1970 the effect has been described as resembling flames, or being like a lava lamp. I doubt Emily Strange would have arisen to her social prominence had she worn yellow and had brown hair and a pink skirt and still retained her Darian nature.
Bart Simpson’s vibrant and flamboyant yellow skin and spiky hair combine to make him very colourful and youthful. His pastel shirt and shorts make him appear like a wall or a flower, but certainly don’t convey homeliness. Rather they convey a freshness of a quick and risky nature, a rebellious madness that is repressed.
There are many ways in which colour can have an effect, and usually this is in part intentional. Take Spongebob with his happy and lively yellow. But few of our reactions to colour remain the primitive connections we used to have. They have achieved a far more subtle level of influence. Psychologically speaking they are not usually any more general in their effect on emotions but intricate and interplay with shapes, sounds et cetera to make an orchestral arrangement that produces an experience, as in a music video.