Why Do We Prefer Certain Colors?


After a broad introduction to synesthesia this week, it prompted me to think about color and specifically why people have a preference for a certain color or colors. Why does my favorite color happen to be red? Everyone has a difference preference for colors, which is interesting and unique. We choose colors when we choose clothes, a car, a notebook, and a water bottle; basically color is taken into consideration for almost everything we buy! We pick most things based on colors we like so why is this? There isn’t really a rational influence to our decisions other than the color evokes an emotional and physiological response in us. Ultimately we decide what colors we like because of what we associate them with and the meaning that accompanies them.

In 2007, a study was conducted by Ai Yoto to investigate the physiological effects of color stimuli on the brain. They measured the effects of color in terms of blood pressure and electroencephalogram results when subjects would look at a sheet of paper that was either red, green, or blue in a random order. Additionally, they incorporated a questionnaire to assess psychological effects. The colors showed distinctly different effects on the alpha and theta bandwidth within the EEG. The questionnaire indicated significant differences between red and blue conditions. Blue elicited a stronger arousal than red did as expressed by the results of the mean power of the alpha band in the attenuation coefficient. The bandwidth measured by the EEG showed larger values while the subjects looked at red paper. They concluded that red possibly elicited an anxiety state and therefore caused a higher level of brain activity in the areas of perception and attention as opposed to the color blue. The red paper’s effect to activate the central cortical region with regard to perception and attention was more distinguishable than the biological activating effect of blue in the study (Yoto, A et. al., 2007).

Another study conducted in 2000 by Thomas Madden, Kelly Hewett and Martin Roth looked at the impact of color cross culturally and how this correlated with meanings and preferences. Through their research they explored these preferences and meanings from respondents of eight countries who evaluated ten colors. The respondents rated the colors with an association of meaning and how much they liked the color and what color combinations they preferred. Their results showed that the colors blue, green, and white were all rated fairly high across countries and shared similar meanings. Black and red also received high liking ratings but their meanings varied. When relating this to consumers, it shows that in many parts of the world consumers have similarities in color liking and color meaning associations. They associate red with Coca-Cola, blue with IBM, and green and white with Canada Dry ginger ale. The differences across nationalities would explain the image perception of the brands and companies due to their regional location and presence of the brand. It is important to take color into account and their results suggest that color can be a valuable, controllable marketing variable for managing image standardization (Madden et al., 2000).

These studies help to show that color does evoke a physiological arousal within us and can show that we have specific preferences and associations for color. We choose certain brands because we have learned to associate them with a color and a meaning due to our environment and society.

Research Articles:

Madden, T. J., Hewett, K., & Roth, M. S. (2000). Managing images in different cultures: A cross-national study of color meanings and preferences. Journal of International Marketing, 8(4), 90-107.

Yoto, A., Katsuura, T., Iwanaga, K., & Shimomura, Y. (2007). Effects of object color stimuli on human brain activities in perception and attention referred to EEG alpha band response. Journal of Physiological Anthropology, 26(3), 373-379.


Filed under: Olivia Tagged: arousal, association, environment
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