What is Colour and How Does It Affect Us? Part Two

I hope you have enjoyed becoming more aware of the colours around you over the past month and observing the different ways in which they make you feel. As we deepen our experience of colour and its effect on us, it is helpful to understand how the eye sees colour. Light travels through the pupil and fluid to reach the lens which bends the rays so that they are focused on the retina at the back. Within the retina are cells that contain light sensitive pigments of two types: rods and cones. Rods are more numerous and light sensitive but only record shades of grey. Each cone is sensitive to one of the three primary colours of light: red-orange, green and blue-violet. The cones that are sensitive to green are in the middle of the retina and this is why green is the most relaxing colour for the eyes and the mind.

Light breaks down the pigment in the sensory cells, setting off a nervous impulse along the optic nerve to the visual cortex at the back of the brain, the hypothalamus, the pituitary and pineal glands. The visual cortex is responsible for sight but the hypothalamus, the pituitary and pineal glands are responsible for the hormones.

The hormonal system controls many of the body’s functions including growth, sleep, temperature, sexual drive, energy, metabolic rate and appetite. The hypothalamus responds to morning light, blue/green in particular, prompting the release of the hormone cortisol which stimulates and wakes us whereas it releases melatonin into the bloodstream so that we become drowsy when the amount of blue light in sunlight is reduced in the late evening. The pituitary gland, the ‘master gland’ of the hormonal system, and the pineal gland are also deeply affected by colour. Darkness stimulates melatonin production while light suppresses it. The pineal gland is also affected by changes in seasonal light so that in the summer we feel more energetic while in winter we incline towards rest.

Colour therapy is not simply a modern phenomenon. Egyptians, Greeks, and Chinese used colour in healing temples, a practice known today as Cromotherapy. Then, in 1933, Dinshah Ghhadiali put it on the modern map by writing the Spectro Chrometry Encyclopedia.

The effect of colour is very evident in different age group. For example, babies cry more in a yellow room:

 …pre-adolescent children prefer brighter primary and secondary colours and solid blocks of colour rather than patterns…

Adolescent girls love varying shades of purple and pink whereas older teenagers show a preference for black as they hide from the world while they discover their own unique identity.

Adults prefer more subdued colours, are less open to experimenting and tend to stick with their favourites. Mature 65+ year olds have a preference for clear and calming colours such as fresh blues, pinks, greens whereas mature women often choose colours in the purple range – hence the poem by Jenny Joseph: “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple, With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me…”

We will continue our exploration of colours next month with a look at the colours themselves. Until then, have a colourful November. Enjoy!

Love Laurelle