Cross-Cultural Color Psychology

Color psychology, or the study of different hues and their effect on human behavior, is very important in branding and marketing. Let’s say that you’re starting a brand new high-end clothing line and you need to pick colors for your logo. In the U.S., you may choose black to represent power and refinement, purple to signify luxury, or maybe a golden star to represent that your brand’s value is on the rise. Unfortunately, color psychology isn’t an exact science and it doesn’t always translate from one culture to the next.

So you’ve chosen your golden star logo because gold signifies wealth and a star makes you think of fame – YES! Nicely done! Except in Israel, that golden star may have a very different connotation, and suddenly your cute, symbolic logo has alienated an entire group of people.

With a name like Color Psychology, you may think this is an exact science, but the human reaction to colors is dependent on personal experience, cultural perceptions, and likely even human (and animal) evolution.

Let’s look at red for example. First of all – I hate the color red. In small doses, it’s fine but I become anxious and overwhelmed by the color very quickly. This is not an uncommon reaction to the color and across many cultures. In the Middle East it is used to connote danger, caution, and urgency. This is true in western cultures as well, but here red can also signify love, passion, and excitement. In India, red signifies wealth and power, purity, fertility, seduction, love, and beauty and is often used to represent the time in a woman’s life when she is getting married – from the wedding dress to the henna decorating her hands and arms. In other Eastern cultures, specifically in China, red is representative of luck, prosperity, and happiness.

Blue is another color with varied significantly across cultures. Even within western cultures, blue signifies both melancholy (having the blues) and happiness (blue skies.) It is also a color that represents trust, security, authority, and masculinity (at least since the 1940s.) Conversely, in China, blue is considered a feminine color.

A final color that I found had particularly interesting cultural connotations was orange. In a survey on color psychology, 26% of individuals (79.3% of whom were American) said that orange was a cheap or inexpensive color. Yet, in India, orange, the color of saffron, is one of the most sacred colors which signifies good fortune. I found it interesting that saffron, which is grown in India (and used widely in Indian cuisine, and as a fabric dye, medicine, and perfume), is the most expensive spice in the world.

Finally, in the article Color Psychology: How Colors Influence the Mind, Gregory Ciotti notes that “the relationships between brands and color hinges on the perceived appropriateness of the color being used for the particular brands.” While color psychology can give us a peek into how humans may react to certain colors, in the end, it is important to bear in mind that the individual reaction to a brand’s use of color is going to depend on their personal experiences, their cultural background, and their perception of the brand and the appropriateness of the colors chosen for what is being sold.

2 thoughts on “Cross-Cultural Color Psychology

  1. Rhonda Pattberg says:

    This is very interesting. I’ve often been aware of color and it’s impact on mood/perception. When hospital was changing scrub colors for each unit, they wanted us to wear a deep raspberry, dark and bold. I strongly advocated against this. Why? On a labor unit you do not want to subliminally increase a woman’s stress, which I believed would happen with any color that was bold. Bold hues to me indicated warning ⛔️. Or, stop, which is the last thing you want a labor to do at full term. Ultimately, we won a soft teal. A calming and soothing color. Anyway…good article. Thanks

    Rhonda

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