Seeing red… or blue

Have you ever felt green with envy, been purple with passion, seen red, or had the blues? Color has been linked so closely with feelings and emotion that it has crept into our language.

Objects do not emanate the colors we see. When we look at something, our minds absorb light waves of differing lengths and interpret them as colors, ranging from long waves (red) to shorter waves (violet) across the visible color spectrum. Color perception begins with information received by cone cells in the retina of the eye. Sighted creatures have between one and five different types of cone cells to gather this information~ humans typically have three types, (although those who are color-blind only have two and 2-3% of women have four). The cone cells pass information on to the right visual cortex in our brains, (which also happens to be where emotion is processed) and other brain centers for filtering and interpretation as color.

Perhaps this close proximity of vision and emotional brain centers affects personal color preferences and emotion. When I was a young child, my mother often set a little blue vase filled with purple violets from our garden by my bedside when I was sick, to help me feel better. And they did. When I was twelve my parents let me choose new wallpaper for my bedroom, and the paper I picked had clusters of violets everywhere. My bedroom was a visual display of my mother’s love to wake up to every morning, and I announced that purple was my favorite color. It still is.

Culture influences our understanding of color as well. In America, red makes us think of love on Valentine’s Day, while orange and black are “Halloween colors”. The people of the remote Candoshi tribe in Peru spend considerable time making bright dyes and pigments for pottery and face paints, yet have no words for colors. Instead they might describe a particular shade of red as being “like ripe fruit.” The Himba tribe from an obscure part of Nambia have a unique system of categorizing colors, with no distinction between blue and green. They can easily identify subtle green shade differences, but struggle to pick out a blue tile as different in a grouping of identical green tiles.

While there are differences in color symbolism, language and association across cultures, there is a high degree of cross-cultural correlation for relating red and yellow with danger, fear and anger. Globally, blue-green elicits the highest number of positive responses, while green-yellow is most often viewed negatively. Some surmise that color perception may have deep historical roots for survival, with some colors implying an invitation while others signifying a warning.

Colors may not look the same to everyone, stir the same feelings and emotions or hold the same cultural significance, but they appear to have common physiological effects. Studies show that heart rate and pulse are elevated when looking at red and yellow and lower when seeing blue and green, found so often in nature. Reds and yellows can help build on excitement and energy, while blues and greens support calm and reduce stress. Perfect for Ai Chi.

 

Do you want to know more? I will be presenting “Ai Chi Boosters” as a part of Ai Chi Innovations sessions at the ATRI International Symposium, June 19-22, 2018 at the Sanibel Harbor Marriott Resort and Spa. This conference is an invaluable resource for those interested in aquatic rehab and fitness. Please follow this link for more information~ I hope to see you there! http://www.atri.org/Symposium18.htm

Join me for a pop-up Ai Chi workshop at the Evanston Athletic Club, 1723 Benson Ave, Evanston, IL on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10:30-11:30 am, June 26-July 19, 2018. Space is limited~ call 847-866-6190 to reserve a spot!

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Writen by mpierce

MS PT, Northwestern University; BS PT, St Louis University; CEEAA; ATRIC; Ai Chi Trainer since 2015; De-Mystifying Mindfulness by Universiteit Leiden on Coursera, Certificate earned on November 4, 2017;

2 thoughts on “Seeing red… or blue

  1. Fascinating to hear that there are people out there who have 4 cones, to them we’re all as colorblind as dogs are! It’s interesting to hear that green-yellow is typically negative, I certainly think of it as being related to being sick – but also to the color of limes and tropical things. I wonder how much of that is cultural and how much is tied because of evolved “instincts”. I’m sure that the blue of the water makes a big difference for the practice of Ai Chi, one more reason being in the water is the perfect spot for a relaxing practice 🙂

    1. As I understand it, the difference between those with 3 and 4 variations of cone types comes down to perception of subtle shade differences. Then there are creatures with 5 different types of cones in their retinas~ who can see colors in the infrared and ultraviolet ranges that we can’t even see! Who are these creatures? Birds have an extra cone type that captures light waves in the ultraviolet range (colorful plumage is very important for their mating habits), Boas and pythons have cone receptors for infrared range color vision, which we can feel as heat but cannot see, and certain butterflies and shrimp actually have over a dozen cone types, but each perceives a smaller light wavelength than our cones do. There does not seem to be a lot of research on color preference, but it appears that both culture and self-preservation instinct play roles. So interesting… And as usual, “more research is needed!”

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