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Zachery Slocum Jessica Camargo English 1102 5 April 2014 Color and Emotional Response: The Biological and Societal Affair Is the link between colors and emotions a biological or societal process? This is the central question that I have been seeking answers to. Like many people, I believed that the associations were a culturally constructed idea which may not be the case. In the past fifty years, psychologists and biologists have been able to unravel the link between colors and human emotions. It is possible that when a human sees a color, both biology and ideas are part of the instantaneous process of feeling an emotion. Because of the intermixing of biology and societal influences, I believe that one’s emotions are dictated at a basic level by biology, and at a higher level through society’s influence over one’s ideas and memories. I conducted a survey of my own, which amounted to a total of 22 responses. My findings in this small survey do support the research done by others. The responses were primarily from North American college students, which could skew the results towards that culture. A surprising result of my survey is that generally the favorite color of both male and female responses is blue. I believe this could be because of its cool and calming ties. For the color and emotion associations, the results were as follows: white and trust, yellow and joy, green and joy, blue and sadness, purple and no answer, red and anger, orange and surprise, black and fear. I can understand the association between black and fear because of the darkness night brings, as well as yellow and joy because spring is often a time of happiness, when the flowers bloom and plants begin to grow again. Purple surprisingly had mostly no answer, which could mean that it is not

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used much to represent emotion. Red had the most responses, at 14 for the emotion of anger. The fact that red was so highly selected could mean that it is very eye catching or has a lot memories associated with it. Blue and sadness is a particularly interesting pair, because blue was the most favored color as well. The responses showed that black was the most worn color, even though this was not noted in published surveys (Slocum).
Joy 14 No Answer 12 10 8 6 4 Anticipation 2 0 Trust White Yellow Green Blue Purple Red Orange Black Sadness

Surprise

Disgust

Anger

Fear

Primary Research – Responses per emotion per color. One reason emotional responses to color are attributed to society is because of the differences found in responses between cultures. In one study done by Jin Gyu Park and Changbae Park, there were differences found between gender as well as culture. Park and Park conducted a survey of pediatric patients with American and Korean backgrounds. They found, “Korean pediatric patients showed significantly higher preference scores for white than Americans did.” This difference has no basis in biology because both Americans and Koreans are human beings with very slight physical differences. One reason Koreans preferred white

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could be because of the association with clarity. “Within Saito's (qtd. in Kaya 2004) study, white was found to be positively associated with the feelings of being clean, pure … and natural.” This could lead to the conclusion that because of the relationship between purity and white, Asian responses to Park and Park’s research favored white in a medical area. In Figure 3, they also showed, “Although the means of white preferences were different between the two groups, both preferred it the least.” Another point to make is that Americans preferred yellow and purple a significant amount less than Koreans. As for the gender differences in Park and Park’s research, they fit with my own in that blue was the most preferred color in both groups, for both male and female responses. Colors Figure 3 (Park). can also be associated with different ideas, “Another well-known example is with the two achromatic colors, black and white. Black is accepted as the symbolism of mourning in some countries, however it symbolizes wedding in some others (Linton, 1991 qtd. in Kaya 2004)” Because of these differences at the core of a culture, it could be said that colors are not solely based on biology. In Kaya’s report, “Green was associated with nature and trees, and thus

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creating feelings of comfort and soothing emotions.” This association would be completely different if trees were a different color. I believe this is further evidence that feelings about colors are affected by society because this association was learned through observation. Biology can be a factor in determining emotions because it is what gives us the ability to have them. Faber Birren was a man with a vested interest in color, writing over 30 pieces throughout the twentieth century. Birren had many clients in his time, when he was a consultant for the use of colors in the workplace. Birren did work for General Motors and the United States Army to increase productivity and create warnings for hazards all through the use of colors. He also believed that colors could help those suffering from a mental illness (Saxon). There is a direct link between color and biology according to Faber Birren, “In human beings red tends to raise blood pressure, pulse rate, respiration …” (24) In addition to the physiological side of color, there is a psychological aspect which this paper is about. Birren references R. L Gregory in Eye and Brain “Depression in people recovering sight after many years of blindness seems to be a common feature of the cases.” This suggests that color can have an emotional response tied to it through biology. One case is referenced where a 52 year old man had his sight given to him for the first time, and subsequently gave up on the act of living because colors were not as vibrant as he had imagined (Birren 41). On a happier note, there has been research in the neuroscience field that supports the idea that when the amygdala interacts with cortical areas in the brain, an automatic emotional response is created (Ren 334). In an article in the Neurocomputing journal by Elsevier, Dongchun Ren states that “The emotion is elicited by the emotion-eliciting region rather than overall visual context.” This is a long way of saying that only specific areas selected through color preference affect a human being’s emotions (Ren 328). Ren suggests that when a human is subjected to a visual stimulus, they first perceive the stimulus then observe the

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emotion-eliciting region which causes the memory and sensory cortex areas of the brain to become activated (330). In addition to showing the areas of the brain that are activated, Ren also created a computer algorithm to replicate the human responses to images. “From natural scenes and mutilation scenes experiments, it is found that our proposed model can obtain the happy or unhappy [sic] emotion as people feel.” (Ren 335) The algorithm worked, which supports the idea that biology does affect color emotion. Because the algorithm worked, there is a link that is proven to exist biologically. This research went about the process in a different way than I did, in that it based the emotions on specific parts of a stimulus. Colors are a very basic part of the human experience, and as such we should seek to learn about them as much as we can. When a human sees a color, both biology and their sum of knowledge, memories, and ideas affect what emotion they feel. Because of the intermixing of biology and societal influences, I conclude that emotions based on colors have a basic pattern from biology with higher level feelings derived from society’s influence. The evidence from the biology and psychology fields supports both sources of emotion, and it is in the best interest of all those who use color to know the ways that it can affect a person. Also, to quote Faber Birren, “… but, if the physiological and psychological needs of masses of people are to be served, colors should not be chosen on whim or impulse,” (108) this much is clear. We have a responsibility to the world to make life as exciting and fulfilling, through color, as we can.

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Works Cited Birren, Faber. Color & Human Response: Aspects of Light and Color Bearing on the Reactions of Living Things and the Welfare of Human Beings. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Co, 1978. Print. Kaya, Naz, and Helen H. Epps. "Relationship Between Color And Emotion: A Study [sic] Ofcollege Students." College Student Journal 38.3 (2004): 396-405. Academic Search Complete. Web. 9 Mar. 2014. Park, Jin Gyu "Phillip", and Changbae Park. "Color Perception In Pediatric Patient Room Design: American Versus Korean Pediatric Patients." Health Environments Research & Design Journal (HERD)6.4 (2013): 10-26. Academic Search Complete. Web. 9 Mar. 2014. Ren, Dongchun, et al. "A Biologically Inspired Model Of Emotion Eliciting From Visual Stimuli." Neurocomputing 121.(2013): 328-336. Academic Search Complete. Web. 9 Mar. 2014. Saxon, Wolfgang. "Faber Birren, 88, Expert on Color." The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 31 Dec 1988. Web. 5 Apr 2014. Slocum, Zachery. “Color Preference Responses.” Extended Inquiry Project. March 02 2014. Web. April 05 2014.

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Reflection The hardest part of this essay was getting started. I found my introduction to be troublingly difficult to write, and I ended up replacing it. I feel that my essay’s greatest strength is the primary research I have done to support my argument. My research fits well with the other research done on the topic. I am glad that I stuck with my topic and researched it because I have found out so much more about color that I can use in my own artistic ventures. I was surprised that I was able to write so much about my topic, because I have hardly ever written as much as this for a single project. Another challenge was actually getting my reflections to be long enough because I felt “done” with talking about my topic as well as my memories concerning it. Through this essay I learned that just because a book is marked as being in the library, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily in the correct place. However, a challenging aspect of the writing was interweaving my own words and ideas with those of established research. The first person felt slightly out of place for me. I have learned that I should write my paper’s contents, and then worry about my introduction and conclusion. Yes, this could be dangerous in that I am not limiting myself, but that is also what makes it so great. I think that this project is one of the most interesting and thought provoking essays I have ever completed, despite not feeling like it will help me in areas other than art. I would like feedback on the flow of my paper, because despite some revisions, I feel it is still rather blocky. I hope that my instructor will feel as intrigued by this topic as I have been. Also, Faber Birren sounds like a great man that I wish I could have met, because his writing is so to the point and does not have fluff. In my third draft, the flow of my paper will hopefully be acceptable as well as making sure my citations are correct. Citing a citation is not something I have done before, and I would like to make sure the two instances of it are not improper. In my

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third draft I may rearrange the images as well as add some text in the paragraphs to lead into them instead of just a caption.