Red Color Psychology, Symbolism and Practical Applications
The Power of Red Affects All of Us - Whether We Know It or Not!
Use The Color of Passionate Emotions to Influence Others Through Branding, Fashion and Home Decor
Red is a powerful color that evokes very intense physiological and psychological reactions in us. We may love this color or hate it, but it's nearly impossible for us to be indifferent to it! In this article I will explore some of the key aspects of this endlessly fascinating color, including its physical and emotional impact on us, its powerful symbolism throughout history, the ways in which companies use the color red as a marketing tool to manipulate our emotional responses to their products and services, and how we can use it to influence other people's reactions to us, our homes and our social gatherings.
Understanding the Color Red's Undeniable Power
Understanding how this powerful color affects us can help us protect ourselves against subliminal manipulation to eat more and faster, talk more, gamble more and less prudently, etc., and also gives us a valuable tool to wield more professional and personal influence, excite more passion in our romantic partners, and help our guests enjoy themselves more when they visit our homes.
Read on to learn more about the compelling symbolism, physical and psychological effects, and practical uses of the color red to influence our own and others' moods and behavior.
"Seeing Red": How This Color Stimulates Our Bodies, Our Minds and Our Emotions
All colors affect us physically, psychologically and emotionally to varying degrees, but arguably red is our most exciting color, a stimulant that triggers powerful physical and emotional reactions in us. It has the longest wavelength of any color, which makes it seem closer to us than it is. That's the reason it tends to grab our attention first (and why it is so commonly used in signs related to danger and safety).
This color stimulates our adrenal glands and the secretion of adrenaline and other chemicals that make our hearts beat stronger and faster, increase blood flow to our brains and muscles, raise our blood pressure, and increase our blood sugar levels and respiration. Our pulses quicken, our hearts pound, we breath harder, and our muscles are energized and primed for action - reactions associated with the fight-or-flight response.
The color also affects our metabolism and stimulates our senses. Ever wonder why red features so prominently in food and beverage brands like Coca-Cola and in fast food restaurant decor like McDonald's? It's because that color stimulates appetite, lively conversation, enjoyment, and faster eating, so seeing red makes consumers more likely to eat more, enjoy their meals more, and leave the restaurant more quickly.
These involuntary physical reactions to seeing this color are closely linked to powerful emotions, such as fear, rage, lust, or exhilaration (the opposite of the peaceful, calming effect usually produced by the color blue). The specific emotional responses that the color triggers in any given person depending on individual preferences, social conditioning, cultural associations, and other contextual factors. For example, one person might wear it as a "power color" that gives him or her confidence, while another person might actively avoid the color because it makes him or her feel uneasy and uncomfortable. Different shades also can affect our responses to it; a deep, bluish "blood red" may evoke a somewhat different response than a bright, warm shade.
The color makes us more daring. According to the color experts at Pantone, "People will actually gamble more and make riskier bets when seated under a red light as opposed to a blue light. That's why Las Vegas is the city of red neon."
Red Symbolizes Extreme Intensity, from Power to Passion, in Wars and in Weddings
It's a Color of Extremes
It symbolizes a wide range of concepts, some of which - like love and hate - seem diametrically opposed. But they share a common characteristic: intensity Depending on the context and culture, red may symbolize joy (intense happiness), rage (intense anger), dominance (intense power), fire (intense heat), victory (intense success), passion (intense emotion), lust (intense desire), war (extreme aggression) and revolution (intense upheaval / radical change), among other concepts.
In Asia the color symbolizes good luck. It is the most popular color in China and an auspicious color for marriage throughout Asia. For example, Indian and Nepalese brides wear red saris and Japanese brides wear red kimono as symbols of happiness and good fortune.
It is also is a symbol of power and authority; it is estimated that 77% of the world's flags use it. It is the universal color for "stop" around the world.
And red is biologically "hard-wired" into humans as well as many other animal species as a symbol of sexual interest.
Red Color Symbolism is Rooted in Ancient History
In ancient Egypt it symbolized life, health and victory. Egyptians used red ochre to color their skin during celebrations. Egyptian women used it cosmetically to redden their lips and cheeks, as well as henna to tint their hair and nails. But it also symbolized heat, destruction and evil, as in the prayer, "Oh Isis, protect me from all things evil and red."
In Roman mythology the color is associated with Mars, the god of war. In the Middle Ages European princes and the Roman Catholic Church used it as a symbol of majesty and authority that also associated royal power with the Church's sacred rituals. The banner of the Byzantine emperors was red, and Charlemagne had his palace painted red and wore scarlet shoes to his coronation as a symbol of his power and authority. Brilliant scarlet clothing was worn only by the affluent and the aristocracy as a symbol of their wealth and status.
A Revolutionary Color
During the French Revolution, the Jacobins and other social radicals adopted red to symbolize liberty and personal freedom; their flag was used as an iconic symbol in Les Miserables, and during the Reign of Terror women known as the "Furies of the guillotine" wore red caps and gathered around the red-painted guillotines to celebrate each execution. In the mid-1800s it became the color of the socialist movement.
In Imperial China the color was associated with fire, believed to be one of the five elements of which the world was composed (along with metal, wood, water, and earth, each of which was associated with a different color). During different Imperial Chinese dynasties, it colored the mansions of the nobility, palace gates, temple walls, and other architectural elements of imperial residences.
In the 20th century it symbolized revolutions, including the Bolshevik revolution, the Chinese revolution of 1949 and the Chinese Cultural Revolution led by Mao Zedung (Mao Tse-tung) and was the symbol of Communist parties around the world. Painters like Henri Matisse and Mark Rothko used the color to evoke and express "human emotions tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on," as Rothko put it.
I wrote a song called "Red" and thinking about what that song means to me and all the different emotions on this album they're all pretty much about the tumultuous, crazy, insane, intense, semi-toxic relationships I've experienced in the last two years. All those emotions fanning from intense love, intense frustration, intense jealousy, confusion, all of that in my mind, all those emotions are red. There's nothing in between ... nothing beige about those feelings and so I called my record that.— Taylor Swift
50 Shades of Red: Far-Ranging Meanings and Symbolism
The color of intensity and extremes is associated with and symbolic of many different important concepts and strong emotions. Some of the meanings and symbolism are quite different (e.g., sexuality vs. communism, murder vs. beauty), but more often than not they are nuanced shades of broader concepts, e.g., danger / urgency / emergency / alertness.
Following are 50 of the most common concepts symbolized by or associated with this color.
Color Associations and Symbolism Are Affected by a Person's Cultural Background and/or Personal Experiences
What Is Your Most Powerful Association With the Color Red?
Be Inspired to Live a More Meaningful Life
Author Pam Grout describes herself as "a hopeless romantic who still believes the world is a beautiful place, that people are noble and that anything is possible."
In her heartwarming and inspiring book , Grout shares stories of ordinary people who courageously overcame major challenges in order to make their lives meaningful by making a difference as a result of "Thinking Big", "Giving Big", "Blessing Big", "Imagining Big", etc. Living Big: Embrace Your Passion and Leap into an Extraordinary Life
Red Triggers Different Physical and Psychological Effects in Us Depending On the Situation
Research studies have found that the color has a variety of significant effects on us, some of them dependent on the context of the exposure. Here are a few of them:
- Immediately after we see the color red, our muscles react faster and more forcefully.
- Both men and women who are wearing the color are more attractive to members of the opposite sex.
- Red can enhance our accuracy and performance on memory- and detail-oriented tasks such as proofreading.
- It also can trigger anxiety driven by fear of failure that can hurt our performance in achievement-based contexts such as tests.
The context in which we see it dramatically affects its symbolic (and often subconscious) meaning to us and our resulting motivations. Context can cause it to mean opposite things to us (danger or attractiveness) that trigger reactions based on opposite motives (avoidance or approach).
For example, red stop signs, traffic lights and police or fire sirens are signs of danger that we are motivated to avoid, while red roses and Valentine's Day hearts signify romantic love and red lipstick, rouge and lingerie are signals of sexuality intended to attract prospective partners and motivate them to approach the source of that attraction.
The Effect of the Color Red on Our Motivation and Behavior is Different in a Romantic Context vs. an Achievement Context
In 2012 a fascinating research study was published about how the color red affects our motivation and behavior differently in a romantic context than in an achievement context.
- Students who believed they were going to be interviewed about dating by a red-shirted interviewer walked down the corridor to the supposed interview room much faster than the students who expected to be interviewed about the same topic by a blue-shirted interviewer.
- Conversely, students who believed they were going to be interviewed about their intelligence by a red-shirted interviewer walked toward the supposed interview room much more slowly than students who expected to be interviewed about the same topic by a blue-shirted interviewer.
- There was no significant difference in the walking speed of participants who expected to be interviewed about dating by a blue-shirted interviewer or of those who believed they would be interviewed about their intelligence by a blue-shirted interviewer .
It seems reasonable to conclude from the results of this experiment that:
- The participants who expected to be interviewed about dating by a red-attired interviewer were looking forward to the interview and anxious to get to it.
So red in a romantic context motivated the students to approach.
- The participants who expected to be interviewed about their intelligence by a red-attired interviewer were concerned about their performance in the interview and were reluctant to begin and literally dragged their feet.
So red in an achievement context motivated students to avoid.
- The blue shirts worn by some of the interviewers had no motivation effect - either to avoid or approach - on participants regardless of romantic vs. achievement contexts.
So blue in either a romantic OR an achievement context had no effect on the students' motivation.
That's pretty compelling evidence that the psychological effect of this powerful color depends largely on context.
Gossip is just news running ahead of itself in a red satin dress.— Liz Smith, gossip columnist
Use Red Color Psychology to Influence Other People
Using Red in Home Decor to Set the Right Mood
Color often is used strategically by ourselves or by others — to influence our reactions at a subliminal level. We can take a cue from food marketers and use red to stimulate our appetites, or avoid it in eating contexts to help us lose weight.
For example, red kitchen appliances and dinnerware (plates, cups, etc.) may subtly sabotage someone who's trying to eat less food to lose weight, but using ruby glass drinking glasses or plates at your next dinner or holiday party can help your guests enjoy the food more and stimulate lively conversation.
Painting your bedroom walls crimson is not conducive to rest, relaxation and peaceful sleep, but if you are trying to create a sensual or romantic bedroom environment then scarlet lingerie, candles and/or satin sheets can help set the desired mood.
Red pillows, lamps or other home accessories can provide an exciting pop of color to enliven a mostly neutral color palette in your interior decorating scheme.
Here are a few specific suggestions of simple home decor accents that have have a big impact.
Stimulate the Senses with High Quality Scented Red Candles
Who doesn't adore candlelight? I have at least one candle in every room of my house, and several in most rooms, and there's a huge difference between a well-crafted candle made with high quality waxes, scents and molds and cheaper candles made with inferior wax and coloring and scent ingredients.
Root Candles is a family-owned company whose candles have been made in the USA since the 1800's. They use pure essential oils to scent the all-natural beeswax blend candles in their premium Legacy line, which includes that look and smell absolutely wonderful and give off a soft, inviting, romantic glow. bright red Hollyberry candles
Set the Stage for Romance with Red Satin Sheets
Nothing signals romance more clearly than lustrous red satin sheets! The color of passion combined with the silky feel of satin against your skin is highly conducive to sensual pleasure. Tip: Even if you save the sheets for Valentine's Day and other romantic occasions, you can use the satin pillowcases year-round to help keep your hair looking nice in the morning, especially if you like to set your hair before you go to bed.
A Cozy, Soft, Red Plush Throw is an Unspoken Invitation to Snuggle
A warm and cozy throw in an elegant dark red just begs to be shared with someone special!
The Fishers Finery Ultra Plush Throw, for example, is generously sized at 50 x 64 inches with fringe so it's plenty large enough for two adults to snuggle under. Neither you nor your partner will be able to resist running your hands over the soft and silky micro velvet fleece. This beautiful throw is also practical; it's machine washable for easy care.
Even if you're not looking to create a romantic ambiance, it adds a rich pop of color to your home decor, whether for holidays or year round.
Wear Red to Make a Powerful Impact, Get Attention, Attract the Opposite Sex or Enliven a Neutral Wardrobe
It's a classic and effective way to display power, authority and confidence. Have you noticed that executives, politicians, and other men in positions of power usually wear red ties to important meetings or events? That's no accident! They're wearing so-called "power ties". And for many years women in powerful positions such as politicians, public speakers and senior executives have worn red "power suits," jackets or accessories when they wanted to project authority.
Beauty, to me, is about being comfortable in your own skin. That, or a kick-ass red lipstick.— Gwyneth Paltrow
Women have reddened their lips and cheeks since before Cleopatra to make themselves more attractive to men. Crimson lipstick, rouge and nail polish can create a sensual, attention-getting, physical focal point on one's body. That's why fire-engine lips and fingertips are a classic look that never goes out of style!
Wearing red lingerie or sleepwear is an overt and unmistakable symbol of sexuality.
A simple red belt, shoes, bag, jewelry or other accessories can add impact and transform a neutral beige, gray, black or white outfit into something more memorable and chic.