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Color Psychology: Does It Affect How You Feel?

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How Colors Impact Moods, Feelings, and Behaviors

Do you feel anxious in a yellow room? Does the color blue make you feel calm and relaxed? Artists and interior designers have long believed that color can dramatically affect moods, feelings, and emotions. “Colors, like features, follow the changes of the emotions,” the artist Pablo Picasso once remarked.

Color is a powerful communication tool and can be used to signal action, influence mood, and even influence physiological reactions.

Certain colors have been associated with increased blood pressure, increased metabolism, and eyestrain.

So how exactly does color work? How is color believed to impact mood and behavior?

What Is Color Psychology?

In 1666, English scientist Sir Isaac Newton discovered that when pure white light passes through a prism, it separates into all of the visible colors. Newton also found that each color is made up of a single wavelength and cannot be separated any further into other colors.

Further experiments demonstrated that light could be combined to form other colors. For example, red light mixed with yellow light creates an orange color. Some colors, such as green and magenta, cancel each other out when mixed and result in a white light.

If you have ever painted, then you have probably noticed how certain colors can be mixed to create other colors.

“Given the prevalence of color, one would expect color psychology to be a well-developed area,” researchers Andrew Elliot and Markus Maier have noted.

“Surprisingly, little theoretical or empirical work has been conducted to date on color’s influence on psychological functioning, and the work that has been done has been driven mostly by practical concerns, not scientific rigor.”

Despite the general lack of research in this area, the concept of color psychology has become a hot topic in marketing, art, design, and other areas.

Much of the evidence in this emerging area is anecdotal at best, but researchers and experts have made a few important discoveries and observations about the psychology of color and the effect it has on moods, feelings, and behaviors.

Of course, your feelings about color are often deeply personal and rooted in your own experience or culture. For example, while the color white is used in many Western countries to represent purity and innocence, it is seen as a symbol of mourning in many Eastern countries.

The Psychological Effects of Color

Why is color such a powerful force in our lives? What effects can it have on our bodies and minds?

While perceptions of color are somewhat subjective, there are some color effects that have universal meaning. Colors in the red area of the color spectrum are known as warm colors and include red, orange, and yellow. These warm colors evoke emotions ranging from feelings of warmth and comfort to feelings of anger and hostility.

Colors on the blue side of the spectrum are known as cool colors and include blue, purple, and green. These colors are often described as calm, but can also call to mind feelings of sadness or indifference.

Color Psychology as Therapy

Several ancient cultures, including the Egyptians and Chinese, practiced chromotherapy, or the use of colors to heal. Chromotherapy is sometimes referred to as light therapy or colorology and is still used today as a holistic or alternative treatment.

In this treatment:

Red was used to stimulate the body and mind and to increase circulation.
Yellow was thought to stimulate the nerves and purify the body.
Orange was used to heal the lungs and to increase energy levels.
Blue was believed to soothe illnesses and treat pain.
Indigo shades were thought to alleviate skin problems.

Modern Research on Color Psychology

Most psychologists view color therapy with skepticism and point out that the supposed effects of color are often grossly exaggerated. Colors also have different meanings in different cultures. Research has demonstrated in many cases that the mood-altering effects of color may only be temporary. A blue room may initially cause feelings of calm, but the effect dissipates after a short period of time.

However, the existing research has found that color can impact people in a variety of surprising ways:

One study found that warm-colored placebo pills were reported as more effective than cool-colored placebo pills.
Anecdotal evidence has suggested that installing blue-colored streetlights can lead to reduced crime in those areas.
More recently, researchers discovered that the color red causes people to react with greater speed and force, something that might prove useful during athletic activities.

A study that looked at historical data found that sports teams dressed in mostly black uniforms are more likely to receive penalties and that students were more likely to associate negative qualities with a player wearing a black uniform.

Color Can Influence Performance

Studies have also shown that certain colors can have an impact on performance. No one likes to see a graded test covered in red ink, but one study found that seeing the color red before taking an exam actually hurt test performance. While the color red is often described as threatening, arousing or exciting, many previous studies on the impact of the color red have been largely inconclusive. The study found, however, that exposing students to the color red prior to an exam has been shown to have a negative impact on test performance.

In the first of the six experiments described in the study, 71 U.S. colleges students were presented with a participant number colored either red, green or black prior to taking a five-minute test. The results revealed that students who were presented with the red number before taking the test scored more than 20 percent lower than those presented with the green and black numbers.

Additional Research Is Still Needed

Interest in the subject of color psychology is growing, but there remain a number of unanswered questions. How do color associations develop? How powerful is the influence of these associations on real-world behavior? Can color be used to increase worker productivity or workplace safety? What colors have an impact on consumer behavior? Do certain personality types prefer certain colors? As researchers continue to explore such questions, we may soon learn more about the impact that color has on human psychology.

Zena O’Connor, a faculty member in the Department of Architecture, Design, and Planning at the University of Sydney, suggests that people should be wary of many of the claims they see about the psychology of color.

“Many of these claims lack substantiation in terms of empirical support, exhibit fundamental flaws (such as causal oversimplification and subjective validation), and may include factoids presented as facts,” O’Connor explains. “In addition, such claims often refer to outdated research without referring to current research findings.”

So what’s the bottom line? Experts have found that while color can have an influence on how we feel and act, these effects are subject to personal, cultural, and situational factors. More scientific research is needed to gain a better understanding of color psychology.

Elliot, AJ. Color and psychological functioning: A review of theoretical and empirical work. Frontiers in Psychology. 2015;https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00368.
Elliot, AJ & Maier, MA. Color psychology: Effects of perceiving color on psychological functioning in humans. Annual Review of Psychology. 2013;65:95-120.
Elliot, AJ & Maier, MA. Color and psychological functioning. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 2007;16(5): 250-254.
Kida, TE. Don’t Believe Everything You Think: The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make In Thinking. New York: Prometheus Books; 2006.
O’Connor, Z. Colour psychology and colour Therapy: Caveat emptor. Color Research & Application. 2011;36(3):229-234.
By Kendra Cherry, Reviewed by Steven Gans, MD

Dishwashing causes relationship distress

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Doing Dishes Is the Worst. This is now an empirically proven fact. Dishwashing causes more relationship distress than any other household task.

Every day, they slowly accumulate. Plates covered in sauces and crumbs. Bowls with a fine layer of sticky who-knows-what. Forks, knives, and spoons all gummed with bits of this and that. At the end of a long day of work, cooking, cleaning, and, for many, negotiating with small children, a couple has to face the big question: Who is going to do the dishes?

A report from the Council of Contemporary Families (CCF), a nonprofit that studies family dynamics, suggests that the answer to that question can have a significant impact on the health and longevity of a relationship. The study examined a variety of different household tasks—including shopping, laundry, and housecleaning, and found that, for women in heterosexual relationships, it’s more important to share the responsibility of doing the dishes than any other chore. Women who wash the vast majority of the dishes themselves report more relationship conflict, less relationship satisfaction, and even worse sex, than women with partners who help. Women are happier about sharing dishwashing duties than they are about sharing any other household task.

What is it about dishes? Dan Carlson, an assistant professor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah, and the lead author of the study, offers one possible reason: “Doing dishes is gross. There is old, moldy food sitting in the sink. If you have kids, there is curdled milk in sippy cups that smells disgusting.” Additionally, unlike some other chores such as cooking or gardening, doing dishes well does not beget compliments, he observes: “What is there to say? ‘Oh, the silverware is so … sparkly’?”

The most unpopular household tasks, Carlson told me, also tend to be the ones most often associated with women. Traditionally, women have shouldered full responsibility for chores that involve cleaning up after someone else: doing the laundry, cleaning the toilet, washing dishes. Men, on the other hand, are often associated with mowing the lawn, taking out the trash, washing the car—tasks that don’t require getting up close and personal with somebody else’s daily grime. Today, women who have to shoulder those traditionally female chores alone “see themselves as relegated to the tasks that people don’t find desirable,” Carlson said. That breeds resentment.

Over the past several decades, men have assumed a greater share of household chores. Today, they perform an average of four hours of housework every week, compared to two in 1965. Dishwashing is actually one of the tasks partners are most likely to take turns doing: Between 1999 and 2006, the share of couples who divvy up dishwashing responsibilities rose from 16 to 29 percent, according to the CCF report. This may make it all the more annoying for women who still find the task falling to them. If a woman goes over to a friend’s house and sees a male partner handling or helping with the dishes, Carlson told me, she’s likely to feel worse about her own arrangement. “The more often a task is shared, the worse it is for you not to share it,” Carlson said. To read more from CAROLINE KITCHENER, click here.

When Daydreaming Gets In The Way Of Real Life

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The story of M begins innocently enough. She was a girl who felt isolated and misunderstood, so she began spending hours at a time on the swings in her backyard, daydreaming.

She imagined herself as many characters, blasting off to other planets, fighting crime and just generally saving the day. This made her feel loved, accepted, even understood.

M began to realize her daydreaming was not normal when her mother yelled at her and asked her why she was moving her lips. So she kept up her daydreaming in secret, hiding from friends at school, pretending to read a book, plugging in earphones to make it appear as if she was listening to music.

Then one day by chance, M met with a former classmate who drew her out. They fell in love, married and had a child, and for a while, the daydreams subsided.

But as life became more middle-class and mundane — dishwasher unloading, toothpaste in the sink — she found herself sneaking back into a world where she was the hero, the boss and every character in between.

M worries that she has a newly diagnosed condition known as maladaptive daydreaming. Now, it’s not in the mental health bible, aka the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and doctors don’t know what causes it. There’s no official treatment, although one case study suggests fluvoxamine, an OCD drug, may help control the daydreams.

Whatever maladaptive daydreaming is, it can have real effects on a person’s daily life. People who say they have the condition report having trouble making friends or even leaving the house. M worries she is one of them. She carves out time to daydream away from her husband and son who know nothing of her secret life. In fact, she says she has never told anyone about it.

M loves her never-ending story, yet she acknowledges her secret is isolating.

“As much as I hate the feeling of being torn and being in two places, I’m not ready to give up my daydreaming and I’m not ready to give up my characters and the feelings that those daydreams give me,” she says. To read more form MEREDITH RIZZO, click here.

Does power posing really help to improve your life?

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Yes – according to Amy Cuddy, one of the pioneers of the idea, at Harvard University (famous for her massively popular TED talk on the subject and her best-selling book Presence). No – according to a critical analysis by Joseph Simmons and Uri Simonsohn at the University of Pennsylvania, published in Psychological Science in 2017. The pair’s statistical analysis of 33 previous studies of potential posture effects led them to a damning conclusion: “the existing evidence is too weak to… advocate for people to engage in power posing to better their lives.”

But now Cuddy, and colleagues, are back, with a new paper also published in Psychological Science. While Cuddy appears to be softening her claims about what power-posing can achieve, she and her colleagues argue that their new analysis shows that there is strong evidence that posture affects emotions in particular, and that power-posing is likely to have a meaningful impact on people, and should not be discounted.

The new paper involves the same type of statistical analysis (called a p-curve analysis) adopted by Simmons and Simonsohn, which uses the distribution of “p values” to estimate the likelihood of falsely positive results in a given set of studies. But whereas Simmons and Simonsohn used this technique to analyse 33 published studies that Cuddy and others had highlighted in a 2015 paper, the new analysis was performed on every single peer-reviewed study in the field that Cuddy and her colleagues could find. This literature search added 21 studies to the total. In the new analysis, the researchers also looked specifically at potential effects of posture on feelings of power, which Simmons and Simonsohn did not.

This new analysis provides clear evidence, Cuddy’s team argue, that people who adopt open, expansive, “power” poses do feel more powerful. And “feeling powerful is an intrinsically consequential, theoretically important, fundamental outcome,” they write. “We believe that even transient feelings of power can have long-lasting consequences for people’s lives.”

They say their new work also provides “very strong” evidence that expansive vs. contractive (such as self-hugging) postures have other emotion-related effects, including affecting participants’ recall of positive vs. negative memories, their self-evaluations, their specific emotional state, and their ability to recover from a negative mood.

But what about impacts of power posing on actual behaviour? To read more from Emma Young, click here.

Embrace the Cringe of an Awkward Situation

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Why awkward moments make us grind our teeth in despair and how we can train ourselves to embrace the cringe.

Why do we do a double-take when we hear our voice on a recording? It’s because our voice sounds lower to us as it reverberates through the skull. The bystander, on the other hand, hears an unmitigated, and therefore higher, version of our voice. We literally sound different to others than we do in our own heads.

In Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness, author Melissa Dahl, co-founder of NYMag.com’s social science site Science of Us, explores the origin of why we cringe, and how we can train ourselves to break free from anxiety caused by awkwardness.

In this video for Bigthink, Dahl draws a link back to 1960s research where people received electric shocks — the study concluded that participants preferred knowing when they would receive a shock instead of not knowing.

The shock study, the recording example — both get at a central part of Dahl’s cringe theory: first, we like predictability, and second, it causes great discomfort when we come across as something other than we think we are.

Dahl calls this “the irreconcilable gap” — a term coined by psychologist Philippe Rochat at Emory University. She explains:

“What makes us cringe is when the ‘you’ you think you’re presenting to the world clashes with the ‘you’ the world is actually seeing, and that makes us uncomfortable because we like to think that we’re coming off in a certain way.”

Dahl explores three ways to shift your relationship to cringe:

1) turn cringeworthy feedback into useful field notes — you wanted a promotion, but things didn’t go your way. You insulted a friend but didn’t mean to. You could brush off these encounters as the other person totally misreading you, or you could glean something from their perception of you (without having to fully buy into it). Dahl explains: “I’ve figured out how to deal with this emotion a little better is to start thinking of it as useful information like, “maybe this is a way to start tiptoeing towards becoming this person that I see myself as, this person that I wish I was.” To read more from Stephany Tlalka, click here.

How to Say “Thank You” to Your Partner

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In my research, I’ve invited couples in romantic relationships to come into the laboratory and thank their partner for something—with video cameras rolling. They express gratitude for a wide variety of things, big and small: for keeping him company in the hospital during a week-long stay, for making sure to prioritize visits to the in-laws, for driving to the grocery store with money when he forgot his wallet, for making (her favorite) banana pudding from scratch, or simply for grabbing him an extra treat at a workplace function. They are heartwarming conversations to witness.

Lots of studies tout the personal benefits that can come from feeling and expressing gratitude in your relationships. People who express gratitude develop more positive evaluations of their relationships and even elicit more help and kindness from others. People who write letters of gratitude show improved mood and—especially if they feel low when they start—experience reduced symptoms of depression. What’s more, people who receive expressions of gratitude get a benefit, too.

Yet not all expressions of gratitude are created equal—and our thank yous don’t always go over well. How do we express gratitude to our partner in the most loving and constructive way. To read more from SARA ALGOE, click here.

The Benefits Of Hand-Washing

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OK, so maybe you’re one of those people who don’t wash their hands even after going to the bathroom because your dad never did and he never got sick.

Or you think a three-second hand scrub is more than enough.

Or you squirt on some hand-sanitizer and figure you’ve done your duty.

I have some news for you.

There’s a new study out on norovirus and the role hand-washing can play in stopping an outbreak.

To sum it up: Wash up!

Norovirus is responsible for roughly 1 in 5 cases worldwide of acute gastroenteritis. The symptoms are pretty horrible: nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. And it’s very, very, very contagious. It takes only one particle to infect a human, compared to roughly 50 to 100 particles of flu virus.

In countries with good health-care systems, a norovirus victim will have about three days of misery but likely recover. But for young children and the elderly, especially in developing countries, the prognosis can be grim. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 50,000 children a year, under age 5, die from norovirus, mainly in lower-income countries.

The virus is particularly effective at finding victims in crowded places: hospitals, schools … and cruise ships, where everybody is living, eating and sharing activities in the same spaces.

Researcher Sherry Towers became curious about norovirus after contracting a case herself. She believes she got it by using a bathroom in which someone had … barfed. She thought the facility had been adequately cleaned. (Only apparently not). To read more from Marc Silver, click here.

Is Your Partner Micro-Cheating?

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Are you guilty of “micro-cheating”? I’d forgive you for having no clue, because I’ve now read about two dozen articles on this latest pop-psychology buzzphrase, which went viral last month, and I’m more confused than when I started. It refers, as far as I can tell, to seemingly innocuous behaviours that actually count as infidelity. But the examples given by dating experts range from wishing someone happy birthday on Facebook, which plainly isn’t a problem, to taking off your wedding ring before chatting someone up in a bar, which plainly is. (Does your partner talk about their ex too much? That’s micro-cheating. But what’s “too much”? No one will say.) Confusing matters further, micro-cheating apparently also includes things that are obviously signs that your partner is having an affair of the conventional variety. If he spends ages staring goggle-eyed at pictures of another woman on his phone, while you look grumpy on the other side of the bed, there are only two possibilities: either you’re posing for stock photos for magazine articles on relationship problems, or you’ve got a relationship problem.

Micro-cheating is an unhelpful idea, as the psychologist Justin Lehmiller noted on The Cut website, because it implies that feeling the tiniest attraction to anyone else is a red flag – a notion so at odds with normal human functioning that it sets a standard no relationship could ever meet. Beyond that, like the idea of the “emotional affair” before it, it seems destined to worry or reassure precisely the wrong people. If you’re needy and insecure, you’ll suspect your partner is micro-cheating when they aren’t – possibly even driving them away, creating the very breach you feared. Conversely, if you’re trying to avoid confronting the truth that your relationship is in trouble, you’ll take false comfort if your partner’s actions happen not to tick any boxes on the micro-cheating list. To read more from Oliver Burkeman, click here.

How long are you contagious with the flu?

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It’s shaping up to be one of the worst flu seasons in years.

If you are one of the thousands of Americans who are sick with the flu, this one’s for you.

You’ve spent the past couple of days cooped up in your house watching bad TV, fighting the fever sweats and expelling a baffling amount of mucus. As you start to resemble a human being again, you might feel pressure to head back to work.

But when is it really OK to return? Many people go back as soon as their symptoms start to resolve, which could be putting your co-workers at risk.

Those unpleasant symptoms are actually the result of your immune response battling the flu virus. Take fever for example. Your body starts a fever because the flu virus doesn’t grow as well at high temperatures, and some immune cells actually work better.

All that gooey mucus you’ve been coughing up is good at trapping viruses before they can infect other cells.Your body is in an all out war, you against the virus. Immune cells seek out and destroy virus-infected cells.

As your airways get irritated, you cough and sneeze. And that’s exactly what the flu wants. That’s because the flu is spread from person to person in virus-containing droplets that are produced when a sick person coughs, sneezes or even breathes. When you cough, tiny droplets that fly from your mouth can travel as far as 20 feet at speeds ranging from 25-50 mph. Sometimes they can stay suspended for hours. To read more from MADELINE K. SOFIA and MEREDITH RIZZO click here.

Eating Leafy Greens Each Day Tied to Sharper Memory

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To age well, we must eat well. There has been a lot of evidence that heart-healthy diets help protect the brain.

The latest good news: A study recently published in Neurology finds that healthy seniors who had daily helpings of leafy green vegetables — such as spinach, kale and collard greens — had a slower rate of cognitive decline, compared to those who tended to eat little or no greens.

“The association is quite strong,” says study author Martha Clare Morris, a professor of nutrition science at Rush Medical College in Chicago. She also directs the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging.

The research included 960 participants of the Memory and Aging Project. Their average age is 81, and none of them have dementia. Each year the participants undergo a battery of tests to assess their memory. Scientists also keep track of their eating habits and lifestyle habits.

To analyze the relationship between leafy greens and age-related cognitive changes, the researchers assigned each participant to one of five groups, according to the amount of greens eaten. Those who tended to eat the most greens comprised the top quintile, consuming, on average, about 1.3 servings per day. Those in the bottom quintile said they consume little or no greens.

After about five years of follow-up/observation, “the rate of decline for [those] in the top quintile was about half the decline rate of those in the lowest quintile,” Morris says.

So, what’s the most convenient way to get these greens into your diet?

“My goal every day is to have a big salad,” says Candace Bishop, one of the study participants. “I get those bags of dark, leafy salad mixes.” To read more from ALLISON AUBREY, click here.