THE STRANGE POWER COLOR HAS OVER US
Science is proving that there's more in color than meets the eye. Just by showing you the right parts of the rainbow at the right time, designers can make you buy more, eat more, work harder or feel happier
A COLOR CHEMIST met a college pal he hadn’t seen for years. The friend confided gloomily that he was planning a divorce. “My wife is so jumpy and irritable I’ll go crazy if I have to live with her much longer,” he explained.
The color expert went home with his friend for dinner. Alone in the living room afterwards he told him bluntly: “You’d be a bundle of nerves too if you had to live in this red room every day. You don’t need a change of wife, you need a change of wallpaper.”
The home was redecorated in restful blues and greys: the wife’s irritability disappeared and the husband forgot his ideas about divorce.
The management of a Toronto chewing-gum plant decided recently that male employees were loitering too long in the washroom. The management didn’t want to complain, fearing labor retaliation. A color expert solved the problem. Washroom walls were painted a harsh unpleasant green. The effect is so irritating there is little temptation now to linger for a second cigarette. The men, without realizing it, are returning promptly to their jobs.
Sales in a Montreal shoe store dropped recently when a new carpet with prominent wine and red design was placed on the floors. A display consultant trained in color psychology spotted the trouble immediately: customers trying on shoes were distracted by the loud design. The carpet was exchanged for an unmarked one of greyishblue which enhanced the form and color of shoes. Sales quickly returned to normal.
Science has discovered a potent power in color and it’s being pul to work in thousands of ways from selling razor blades to curing headaches and preventing airsickness. It is subtly luring us to eat more heartily in restaurants, making students study harder in classrooms, stimulating stenographers so that they type faster and winning football games by putting linemen in a fighting mood.
The secret we have overlooked until recently is that color, like music, can do powerful things to our moods. Some colors stimulate us to greater mental and physical activity; some can be very depressing. Colors can warm or cool us and make the thermometer look like a liar. By reducing eyestrain they are making thousands of oncetedious factory jobs no more fatiguing than croquet .
Says Toronto color specialist Norman Westheuser: “Color is the strongest single influence in our lives. Too bad we’ve taken so long to discover it.”
Chickens With Red Goggles
Experts like Westheuser are using color as a doctor uses pills. Beauty for its own sake is the last thing they think about; they’re concerned with down-to-earth scientific laws on the effect of color on the human mind and body.
Here in digest form is what they have discovered. For their psychological effect, colors of the spectrum can be divided into two main groups. The red, orange and yellow end of the spectrum is warming, cheering, stimulating, while the green, blue and violet end is cooling, relaxing or— if far enough removed from the reds and yellows— downright depressing.
According to the industrial health division, Department of National Health and Welfare, one scientist measuring muscular tension found that it jumped from an average of 23 to 42 units when subjects were placed for a few minutes under a red light. Under a blue light there was little change. He discovered that muscular reactions under red light were 12% quicker than under blue.
Another report concerns a woman with high blood pressure induced by worry over a heart attack she had suffered years before. Her heart was normal again, her trouble purely mental. On four days in succession she was placed for several hours in a room lighted in soft green. Her pulse dropped from 112 to 74 and blood pressure became normal.
Even birds are being subjected to color treatment. At Essex County penitentiary farm in New York State 3,000 chickens are wearing red goggles. Before they were fitted with glasses they would become aroused at the sight of blood and attack
and kill an injured chicken. In one year 10%, of the flock died in this way. Then keepers wired goggles of red isinglass to birds’ beaks. Now everything looks red and they no longer recognize blood. There hasn’t been a fatal fight since. Admiral Horatio Nelson used the same idea 150 years ago. He painted decks red so that his sailors wouldn’t be sickened when the scuppers flowed with blood.
A Canadian paint journal reports that a football coach had his team’s dressing room painted vivid red. After seeing red for minutes players returned to the field fighting mad.
But when this kind of “fight, conditioning” occurred unintentionally in a Philadelphia dining room it created chaos. The room was redecorated, making extensive use of red. Immediately there was an increase in complaints over food and arguments with the cashier over checks. A psychologist tipped the management to the trouble. The strong red was throwing color-sensitive diners into an irate mood without them being conscious of it. The color was changed and sociability improved.
Why are some colors exciting and stimulating, some soothing and relaxing, others depressing? These influences are the result of two factors: 1. The optical capabilities of the eye itself, the manner in which it, sees colors; 2. The effect of nature through thousands of generat ions in familiarizing us with certain colors.
It’s a Matter of Wave Length
Scientists, now able to split the atom and signal the moon, admit they’re still stumped by many secrets of color vision. But this much is known: Light, a form of electromagnetic energy, travels in waves of different sizes, each color having its own wave length. When we see a bundle of all the wave lengths in the visual spectrum at one time they combine to make us see white light. When this light gets pulled apart by objects reflecting only part of it we see the reflected portion as one of the colors. Color wave lengths range from red, the longest at 1/33,000 of an inch, to violet, the shortest at 1/67,000.
The human eye focuses most easily on red, orange and yellow. These colors outline sharply on the eye’s retina—its photographic plate. They are the “vigorous” colors. Furthermore, nature uses them frugally; only in the last 100 years, with extensive development of paints and dyes, have red, orange and yellow become common colors.
These two facts—the sharpness with which the eye sees them and their relative newness in mankind’s history—make them exciting and stimulating. But they can be too stimulating. Moderate doses prevent boredom and make physical work easier; heavy doses overstimulate, induce fatigue, become mentally irritating. Some psychiatrists say that a person forced to live a few weeks in a bright-red room would wind up stark mad.
There’s another factor. For more than 30,000 years man squatted around campfires —he has been stoking furnaces for less than a century. The campfire is no longer a focal point of his environment, but deep in his subconscious the lure of the flame is still there. Today the fire colors of red, orange and yellow may exist as paint on a wall, but in man’s subconscious they will always suggest a fire’s warmth and cheer.
Because of their shorter wave lengths, green and blue are focused less distinctly by the eye. They are soft, slightly hazy and produce a soothing and relaxing psychological effect. Nature has splashed green and blue everywhere. We subconsciously associate green with tranquil landscapes and the effect of this on the mind is restful. Blue, the tint of sky and sea, is the color of nature’s distant vistas and is also eye-relaxing. Thousands of years of sea and sky-gazing have made blue the color on which the eye relaxes most easily. And blue, because it is associated in the subconscious with the chill of water, has a cooling influence.
A Canadian soup company recently constructed a new dining room in its plant. The color plan included blue-tiled wainscoting topped by pale blue walls. On the first frosty day employees complained the room was cold. “It’s thermostatically controlled at Continued on page 61
The Power of Color
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72 degrees, same as the rest of the plant,” replied the building superintendent. But he gave in and upped the temperature to 74 degrees. The workers insisted it was still cold.
An executive sensed the trouble and called back the decorators. “Yes,” they admitted, “maybe we used too much blue.”
An orange stripe was added to the wall, slipcovers of orange and reddishbrown placed on the chairs. The temperature was dropped to 72 and the workers thanked the building superintendent for keeping the room warmer.
British troops, sweltering in tanks during the Western Desert campaign of 1942, felt cooler and fought harder when the tank interiors were painted hlue-green.
Color can also absorb or radiate heat. White, in reflecting all light, also reflects heat. Black absorbs light and absorbs heat into the barghin. White ships in the tropics are claimed to be 10 degrees cooler inside than black ships. The U. S. Bureau of Mines reports that four months’ gasoline evaporation in a white storage tank was 112 gallons; in a red tank 284 gallons (in a black tank it would be still higher). Changing a 20,000gallon tank from black to white saved one oil company $400 a year. A Russian port opens two months before the ice would normally melt by covering the ice with coal dust. The blackened ice absorbs sunlight and melts in half the time.
Where greens and blues are soft and hazy, purple leaves a blurred image on the eye. Someone not speaking distinctly leaves us impatient and
annoyed; purple and violet—-indistinct colors—have a similar effect. Merchandising experts say food in a purple package will sit on store shelves until the mice eat it.
Black also has some of the depressing qualities of purple. Yousuf Karsh, Ottawa portrait photographer, learned early that his large black camera and focusing cloth had a depressing influence on subjects. The natural character he captures in his portraits are partly the result, he says, of having painted his camera white and of having replaced the black head cloth with one of white and gold.
Don’t Blame It on Salami
Where work is physical and monotonous (like typing) a color scheme leaning to soft reds, yellows, browns, cream and buff eases boredom and speeds muscular reaction. When the offices of a chemical manufacturer were changed from grey and blue to cream and red, tests revealed that typing speed increased 12%, shorthand transcription 20%.
Where work involves mental concentration or attention to fine detail (like accounting), colors like red and yellow distract and add to eyestrain. The engineer studying blueprints or the skilled technician assembling watches needs an opportunity to relax when he lifts his eyes from the job. Walls of blue and green will do this.
In a plant where the fine innards of radio tubes are welded over bright gas jets, tempers grew short and breakages increased toward the end of each day. Faber Birren, U. S. lighting and color expert, said eyestrain was producing mental and physical fatigue. “Give the workers a chance to rest their eyes,” he recommended. Diab benches and walls were painted light blue, a few
touches of orange were added to break monotony. Breakages decreased and the production rate rose.
Headaches, nausea, fatigue, indigestion and stomach ulcer? have sometimes been traced by industiial plant doctors to the strain of working under glare or inadequate lighting. Says color expert Birren: “Many a sick stomach blamed on a salami sandwich should he blamed instead on eyestrain.”
By spotlighting cutting blades, drills, rollers and electrical contacts accidents in some factories have been reduced 50% ■ A vision expert claims that rail crossing accidents could be cut in half by painting locomotives yellow. The CNR recently painted cabooses a vivid orange so that engineers could determine a mile away whether the rear of a freight waiting on a siding was clear of the main line.
Peaches for New Mothers
A ’Toronto soap firm, seeking suggestions from employees, gets a 50% greater response now that the suggestion box has been surrounded with a red circle on the wall. Rut some oilhurner manufacturers who use red to highlight control knobs and levers aien’t hep to the science. Red is the first color to fade out in the dim light of a basement.
In modern hospitals color has become an aid to healing. Hospital white is on the way out. Many Canadian hospitals have replaced the harsh unnaturalness of white with soft colors.
Greens and blues in operating rooms help the patient to relax and anaesthesia is hastened. Expectant mothers in labor frequently experience a feeling of claustrophobia; walls and ceilings j appear to press in on them. Labor rooms of blue, nature’s color of distance, help overcome this. But after the baby is boin the mother needs a change of color. Gay colors like peach and pink \\ ill bring the roses back to her cheeks.
Color can play mischief with your stomach. When Pan-Ameiican Airways set up a research team to find out why their passengers suffered airsickness more than passengers of other lines the brown-and-yellow color plan of plane interiors was found to be the culprit. Yellow hastened nausea in color-sensitive travelers. Pan-American redecorated with green, which was found to be the best air-sickness preventive, provided green-tinted pillows and blankets and avoided serving mayonnaise and other yellow foods. Air-sickness decreased by 45%,.
It Looks Bigger in Red
Many manufacturers skilfully use color to attract attention to their products on store shelves. A garden implement maker had to enlarge his plant after he started painting rake and shovel handles red. A flooi-wax firm boosted sales 25% in a few months by changing its brown container to red, yellow and black.
Food - packaging designers have learned that colors like red, yellow and orange on which the eye focuses sharply make an object appear larger. Blue, green and black seem to reduce the size of a food package.
The phenomenon of the afterimage is also a power in selling. Gaze steadily at an electric light for 30 seconds then shift your eves to a sheet of white paper. Stare at the paper and you will see a circle of blue, the afterimage of the yellow light. Try it with a bright red object, a pencil or a button, held in strong light. You wifi see the object outlined in blue-green on the paper. The explanation is that when you stare, for example, at a red object, the eye’s nerve endings that pick up red
rays become temporarily burned out. When you shift your gaze to white paper the burned-out area of the eye sees the white minus its red rays—and white minus red in color physics equals blue-green.
A butcher redecorated his shop and painted walls yellow. Business slumped. A consultant explained that customers, after gazing at the yellow walls, saw a blue afterimage which gave the meat an unwholesome purplish bue. The walls were repainted green. Business is back to normal for now a red afterimage makes the meat appear fiesh and appetizing.
A Chicago packing house went one bett( r. In its salesroom even sawdust on the floor is dyed green.
Yellow Makes You Hungry
In dress shops the afterimage is also out to sell. A customer selects a dress, steps into a dressing room to try it on. “ It’s wonderful, it makes me look 15 years younger!” she exclaims, looking in the mirror. If she had been used to the eye-trickery of color she would have been suspicious of that blue-green wall opposite the dressing room mirror. The bloom of youth she saw in her cheeks wasn’t put there by the new dress—it was the pink afterimage of the blue-green wall mirrored behind her face.
Food research has proved that warm colors—yellow, cream, peach and so on, with smaller areas of red or orange as trim—stimulate our appetites and induce us to order larger meals (and leave bigger tips) than blue and green surroundings.
A quick-service sandwich shop in Montreal was losing business because patrons, after eating, lounged back in their seats to chat, occupying space that new arrivals had to wait for. “ Youi place is too restful,” a decoratoi told the owner. So the lighting was increased and cream walls were changed to yellow trimmed with reddish brown. ’The owner reports, “No more lounging: they eat quickly and get oui.”
A New York art dealer attributes a share of his success to the same idea. Several years ago he instructed one of his buyers to select the brightest and most discordant wallpaper to be found for his bedroom.
“I mean it!” the dealer repeated. “I want something so dreadful that as soon as I open my eyes I shall have to get out of that room. I don’t make money lying in bed!” if