The Fascinating Impact of Color on Health| Updated: May 15, 2019
Modern research suggests that, yes, color has a profound impact on how we feel and biological functions.
Research as early as 1932 showed that visible wavelengths of light may have a direct effect on the endocrine system as they are able to reach the pineal and pituitary glands in the brain through neurochemical channels that operate independently of the optic nerve. This means that color may not actually have to be “seen” to have an effect!
Further research in this area in 1978 suggested that the color pink has a tranquilizing effect and can calm hostile or angry emotions – even to the point of weakening muscles within 10-15 minutes.
The research conducted by Glen Wylie and photo-biologist John Ott showed that out of 153 people, only 2 failed to lose strength in their arms when viewing a large, 2×3′ piece of pink construction paper. Strength loss from the color pink ranged from 6-23%. In contrast, the color blue caused the subjects’ muscle strength to quickly return.
Based on this research alone, the commanding officers at the Seattle U.S. Naval Correctional Center decided in 1979 to try painting the holding cell used for initial confinement of new inmates completely pink except for the floor. Newly confined inmates tend toward aggression much more than any other inmates with violence “a whale of a problem” at this particular facility according to the prison administrator at the time.
223 days of continuous use of the pink holding facility for new confinees showed no incidents of erratic or hostile behavior during the initial phase of confinement. The impressive results of the first 156 days were detailed in a memo to the Bureau of Naval Personnel, Law Enforcement and Corrections Division, Washington, D.C.
The memorandum described that only 15 minutes of exposure to the pink holding cell were necessary to reduce the potential for violent behavior and that the beneficial effect lasted for 30 minutes which was long enough to process the inmate and relocate him to a permanent cell.
Similar results were reported by the San Bernardino County Probation Department, the Santa Clara County Jail, and others.
Can the Color Pink Win Football Games?
The University of Iowa took the application of the color pink for weakening aggression and muscle relaxation to a whole new level by painting the visiting team’s locker room in the football stadium Pepto-Bismol pink – including the toilets!
No word on whether this color gamble actually paid off with a long, unbroken string of football wins at home!
Dr. Francis Kolar’s Experiments with Color
Dr. Francis Kolar studied the effects of color on mice at a research hospital in Wichita, Kansas in the 1940s. Spinal fluid was drawn from a group of mice and analyzed. Half the mice then went about their normal activities while the other half were subjected to a strenuous round of exercise on a treadmill to the point of exhaustion.
When the spinal fluid was drawn from the mice at that point, the exhausted mice showed no color whatsoever in their spinal fluid whereas the non-exhausted mice showed color from the full spectrum of visible light.
As the energy of the exhausted mice returned, so did the color to their spinal fluid.
Dr. Kolar performed many experiments to examine and understand the healing properties of color noting that when people are sick or even simply have a grey skin pallor, they actually have little to no color in their spinal fluid.
The most lively, energetic people had vibrant color not only in their skin but also in their spinal fluid. In short, externally visible, vital color in the skin seems to denote internal color and health.
Dr. Kolar’s research as practically applied by his assistant, Dr. Hazel Parcells, in her own practice indicated that understanding the effects of colors on the human physiology is very helpful when planning its use in the home environment.
Feng shui, an ancient Chinese system for harmonizing people with their surrounding environment, teaches the same with each color an expression of one of the five feng shui elements:
- Fire – Passion and high energy.
- Earth – Nourishment and stability.
- Metal – Clarity and Preciseness.
- Water – Ease and abundance.
- Wood – Growth and vitality.
In her book, Dr. Hazel Parcell’s In Her Own Words, Dr. Parcells recommends several guidelines for applying color appropriately in the home environment. Her color suggestions include the following:
- Black is the absence of color and as such, lowers energy. A long road trip in a car with black upholstery virtually guarantees that the people inside the car will feel exhausted after an hour or more of driving. Wearing black clothing reduces body energy and metabolism and hence is not the slimming effect that overweight individuals desire. Better to wear colors that stimulate metabolism like yellow, magenta, violet or red.
- Soft pinks, blues and other pastel shades are most restful and good for the bedroom environment. Wild colors and patterns in the bedroom will affect the sleep, relaxation and even memory. While falling asleep may still occur in a room with unrestful colors or patterns, full relaxation will not fully occur throughout the night. The color of the sheets and pillowcases is most important to keep within the neutral/pastel color scheme.
- White is always an acceptable color particularly in the kitchen when combined with full spectrum lighting. Dr. Parcells also recommends pastels to compliment the creative energy of the cooking environment.
- Yellow may be a good color choice for a bathroom as it is energizing and conducive to stimulating the intestinal tract and perhaps even alleviating constipation.
- Orange may prove a great color for workout gear as it appears to stimulate oxygenization and normalizes metabolism.
- Indigo (blue and violet) are wonderful colors for the bedroom where the person sleeping there suffers from insomnia.
- Red is not a good color to use in children’s rooms as it is too stimulating. Even red drapes or other accessories can disrupt sleeping patterns and make it difficult to settle children down at night for bed. Dr. Parcells had great success normalizing children’s sleeping habits when the colors of the bedroom were changed to calming pastels.
My Experience with Color and Behavior
When I read Dr. Parcells book which includes a chapter on color and health a few months back, it got me thinking about the colors in my boys’ bedroom. They share a room and it was until very recently decorated in a sports type theme with red drapes and a large rug with bold colors with more red and orange throughout the pattern.
While my boys have never had sleep issues, they did tend to wrestle and get rather boisterous in their room on a very frequent basis, and I wondered if the color might have something to do with that. So, while they were away at camp for 10 days over the summer, I took the opportunity to completely redecorate their room with blue pastel paint and deep blue/grey curtains, sheets and pillowcases.
The effect? There hasn’t been a single instance of roughhousing in that room since they came home from camp and it’s now been nearly 2 months since I made the change! Coincidence? Perhaps. But, it is extremely interesting to note that they prefer to play musical instruments and study in their room now which was not a frequent occurrence before when the colors were more energizing.
I certainly look forward to more research being done in this area as I find the effects of color on health to be nothing short of fascinating!
What color schemes do you use around your home? Have you noticed that behavior and energy levels vary depending on the colors of your environment?
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
Since 2002, Sarah has been a Health and Nutrition Educator dedicated to helping families effectively incorporate the principles of ancestral diets within the modern household.
Sarah was awarded Activist of the Year at the International Wise Traditions Conference in 2010.
Sarah received a Bachelor of Arts (summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa) in Economics from Furman University and a Master of Government Administration from the University of Pennsylvania.
Mother to three healthy children, blogger, and best-selling author, her work has been covered by USA Today, The New York Times, National Review, ABC, NBC, and many others.