Choosing nursery colors for a baby can be tricky. Hoping to escape the standard pink or blue options, many parents leap into the world of color armed with little more than a whim and a prayer. After all, color selection is not exactly a science, right?
Actually, it is. Just ask the army of marketing execs who have poured millions into the research.
Psychological studies, first conducted by advertising firms, suggest that colors can influence mood and behavior, stimulate the brain and body, and even affect your little one’s health. Marketing experts have been using these findings to their advantage for decades. The décor at your gym, your day spa, and even your favorite burger joint have been specially designed to affect everything from your attitude to your appetite. But color psychology can be used to affect more than just your wallet. Scientific studies have also found that exposure to certain colors can improve sleep habits, increase memory power, and even enhance academic performance—excellent benefits for growing minds and bodies.
Whether you are planning a nursery or giving your teenager's room a much-needed update, your design may benefit from a little psychological intervention. Before you open that paint can, you should take a minute to consider the psychological effects of your color choice.
Color Psychology 101
Different colors can have different effects on the mind and body. Wondering what your favorite hue can do for you? Here's a quick breakdown of the potential benefits and drawbacks of each color family.
In general, warm colors elicit happiness and comfort, creating intimacy by making large, open spaces feel a little cozier. Bold shades of red, orange, and yellow can stimulate the mind and have an energizing effect on the body. While this is beneficial for growth and development, it’s not much of an advantage when it comes to the nightly bedtime showdown with your average, overly energetic toddler. Thus, warm colors are best used in moderation.
Instead of painting an entire room a bold red or bright yellow, try painting a single accent wall and tying in a few matching accessories. You might also consider pairing warm colors with cooler shades to create a sense of balance and temper any negative effects.
Rich and highly emotive, red excites and energizes the body, increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration.
Have a little athlete on your hands? Some studies suggest that physical effects associated with the color red increase athletic ability. However, red is also associated with increased aggression, an inability to focus, and even headaches. Some research suggests that exposure to the color red may even hurt your child’s academic performance.
Universally loved by little girls, pink evokes empathy and femininity and creates a calming atmosphere. However, despite an initial calming effect, pink can become irritating over time, leading to agitation and anxiety. While your princess may love this rosy hue now, you should be prepared for her to reject it in the future.
Bright and cheery, yellow is associated with happiness and motivation. Soft, subtle yellows promote concentration while brighter shades can stimulate memory and increases metabolism. However, too much yellow can evoke feelings of anger and frustration, resulting in fussy, over-stimulated babies.
Friendly and welcoming, orange borrows many of its parents' positive attributes. Orange has a distinctly social nature, inspiring interpersonal communication and putting people at ease. Like yellow, too much orange can be over-stimulating, so use bold shades sparingly.
Cool colors have a calming effect on the body and can make your child’s room feel spacious and relaxing—think open skies and rolling waves. However, dark, cool colors can evoke all the doom and gloom of an impending storm and should be used in moderation.
Despite their soothing nature, cool colors are not particularly inviting and can leave people feeling cold and reserved if the atmosphere is too stark. To soften the effect, pair cool colors with creamy neutrals, and dress your space with soft fabrics and comfortable accessories.
The exact opposite of red on the color wheel, blue calms the mind and body, lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration and decreasing feelings of anxiety and aggression. Children who have trouble sleeping or are prone to tantrums and other behavioral problems may benefit from spending time in a blue environment. The physical effects of blue also cool the body, creating a refreshing oasis in hot, humid locations.
Associated with wisdom and spirituality, purple combines the stability of blue and the energy of red, taking on the characteristics of either, depending on the shade. Purple can also have a luxurious feel and is associated with wealth and royalty.
Green symbolizes nature and thus promotes a serene and calming environment. Associated with health, healing, and well being, green has a soothing effect on the body and mind, reducing anxiety and promoting concentration. Exposure to the color green may even increase reading ability. One study found that by laying a transparent green sheet on top of the text, students could improve their reading speed and comprehension.
Trusting Your Instincts
While science can make useful generalizations, you should remember that psychological responses are deeply personal. You may feel differently about a color based on your own cultural and personal preferences, and that’s fine. If your little one loves the color red, don’t worry about the negatives. The brain is designed to identify what it needs and likes, and will reward us for the following direction. In other words, if your baby is happy, their brain is happy too.
Chris J. Boyatzis & Reenu Varghese. Children's Emotional Associations with Colors. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 155:1, 77-85, 1994. DOI: 10.1080/00221325.1994.9914760
Dzulkifli, Mariam Adawiah, and Muhammad Faiz Mustafar. The influence of colour on memory performance: a review. The Malaysian journal of medical sciences : MJMS vol. 20,2 (2013): 3-9
Wear Red and You'll Win Gold. Samford University
Rello, Liz and Bigham Jeffrey, P. Good Background Colors for Readers: A Study of People with and without Dyslexia. Carnegie Mellon University