Color Symbolism describes the use of color as a symbol throughout cultures and religions. Listed below are some common cultural (symbolic) connotations attached to colors in Western cultures, particularly in the United States. These are not necessarily consistent with color psychology:
- Elegance, humility, respect, reverence, stability, subtlety, wisdom, anachronism, boredom, decay, decrepitude, dullness, dust, pollution, urban sprawl, water
- Reverence, purity, snow, peace, innocence, cleanliness, simplicity, security, humility, marriage, sterility, winter, coldness, sterility, clinicism, surrender, cowardice, fearfulness, unimaginative, death, air, fire
- Modernity, power, sophistication, formality, elegance, wealth, mystery, style, evil, death, fear, anonymity, anger, sadness, remorse, mourning, unhappiness
- Passion, strength, energy, fire, love, sex, excitement, speed, heat, leadership, masculinity, power, danger, gaudiness, blood, war, anger, revolution, radicalism, socialism, communism, aggression, stop
- Seas, skies, peace, unity, harmony, tranquility, calmness, coolness, confidence, conservatism, water, ice, loyalty, dependability, cleanliness, technology, winter, depression, coldness, idealism, obscenity, tackiness
- Nature, spring, fertility, youth, environment, wealth, money (US), good luck, vigor, generosity, go, grass, aggression, inexperience, envy, misfortune, coldness, jealousy, illness, greed, life, air, earth
- Sunlight, joy, happiness, earth, optimism, idealism, wealth (gold), summer, hope, air, liberalism, cowardice, illness (quarantine), hazards, dishonesty, avarice, weakness, greed, femininity
- Sensuality, spirituality, creativity, wealth, royalty, nobility, ceremony, mystery, wisdom, enlightenment, arrogance, flamboyance, gaudiness, mourning, profanity, exaggeration, confusion
- Buddhism, energy, balance, heat, fire, enthusiasm, flamboyance, playfulness, aggression, arrogance, gaudiness, overemotion, warning, danger
- Calm, depth, natural organisms, nature, richness, rusticism, stability, tradition, anachronism, boorishness, dirt, dullness, filth, heaviness, poverty, roughness, earth
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.
Most evidence suggests the lack of a single, universal psychological reaction to a particular color. For example, death is symbolized by black in most Western cultures and by white in many Eastern cultures. Even members of the same culture from different age groups can act differently. Referencing colors with emotions is developed by every individual when they feel an emotion and then see a color repeated during this time. After the connection is ingrained, the referencing can go both ways.
Reasons for Color Association
Black is often seen as the color of death in Western culture. This is likely because when things die the rotting flesh will turn black. Black is also the color of wood after fire has completely consumed it. Likewise the association of white with death in Eastern cultures could come from the stark whiteness of bones and skeletons. Red is often a color representing violence, war, aggression, or passion; this is probably because red is the color of human blood.