While color has always surrounded mankind on every side and subjected him to its influence since time immemorial, it is only comparatively recently that we have been able to produce and use color as freely as we do today.
Before the 19th century only a limited number of dyes and pigments were known and these were mainly of organic origin. They were also very expensive, so that colorful fabrics and decorative materials were the prerogative of the wealthy. Hundreds of thousands of snails gave their lives so that a Roman emperor could wear his robe of Tyrian purple while his subjects had to be content with unbleached cotton or linen, hides or wool.
Only within the last hundred years or so has this picture changed significantly, first with the synthesis of the aniline dyes, and later with coal-tar derivatives and metallic oxides. Today few of the things we make are left in their original manufactured state without being stained, painted or colored, either wholly or in part. Now there are literally thousands of colors of every imaginable hue and intensity readily available for almost any purpose. Not only do we now have the blue of the sky, the red of the sunset, the green of the trees and all the other colors of nature, but in addition we enjoy man-made articles such as neon lights, paints, wall-papers and color TV.
This increasing use of color combined with the ever-growing competition between manufacturers looking to increase their sales has led to significant development in the field of color psychology. However, when it comes to marketing, much of this research has been along lines of trial and error.
The sugar manufacturer knows, for example, that he must not try to sell his product in a green package, while beauty preparations in a brown jar will remain on the shelf long after others have been sold. The colors of nature have had their influence on us, and these influences are deep-seated in our physiological and psychological make-up. They are there whether we like them or not. In the case of the things we buy, however we are free to choose, and to exercise our own likes and dislikes, our tastes and conventions.
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Manufacturers study these things to ensure that we reach for his product in preference to that of his competitors. If his product is sugar, then he knows that the must package it in a blue container or at least have blue prominently on the package somewhere. He must avoid green at all costs, but he probably does not know why this is so. The physiological sensation associated with the color blue is “sweetness.” Green, on the other hand is “astringence,” and who would want astringent sugar?
The airline whose passengers refuse to fly with any other line may have the best safety record, or the best aircraft, or the politest flight attendants, but the chances are good that they have employed the services of a color-consultant. Where the colors used for the interior decoration of the cabin have been correctly chosen, then the tensions which are associated with flying in even the most nonchalant of passengers are relaxed to some degree, imposing less nervous strain on them and delivering them at their destination in a comparatively relaxed state.
In regards to a painting or a colored photograph, the psychological significance of color is usually less apparent because so many other factors are involved. The subject matter, shape or form, balance of the colors, the education and expertise of the beholder, and their aesthetic appreciation.
It is sometimes possible to deduce personality characteristics of a painter when great emphasis is placed on one or two colors. (For example, Gauguin’s obsession with yellow in his later paintings.) But in general, when many colors are used to create some whole, then it is aesthetic judgment which evaluates that whole and determines whether we like it or not, rather than our psychological reaction to particular colors in the painting.
In the case of single colors, it is possible to be far more specific, especially when the colors have been accurately chosen for their direct association with psychological and physiological needs, as they have in the Luscher Color Test. In this case, a preference for one color and a dislike for another means something definite and reflects an existing state of mind, of glandular balance, or of both. To see how this can be so, why this relationship is universal and why it exists independent of race, sex or social environment, it is necessary to look back at man’s long exposure to the colors of Nature.
The Origin of Color Significance
In the beginning man’s life was dictated by two factors beyond his control: night and day, darkness and light. Night brought about an environment in which action had to cease, so man repaired to his cave, wrapped himself in his furs and went to sleep. Day brought an environment in which action was possible, so he set forth once more to replenish his store and forage or hunt for his food.
Night brought passivity, quiescence and a general slowing down of metabolic and glandular activity; day brought with it the possibility of action, an increase in the metabolic rate and greater glandular secretion, thus providing him with both energy and incentive. The colors associated with these two environments are the dark-blue of the night sky and the bright yellow of daylight.
Dark-blue is therefore the color of quiet and passivity, bright yellow the color of hope and activity, but because these colors represent the night and day environments, they are factors which control man rather than elements he can control; they are therefore described as “heteronomous” colors—that is, colors which regulate from out-side. Night (dark-blue) compelled activity to cease and enforced quiescence; day (bright yellow) allowed activity to take place but did not compel it.
To primitive man, activity as a rule took one of two forms—either he was hunting and attacking, or he was being hunted and defending himself against attack: activity directed toward conquest and acquisition or activity directed toward self-preservation. The outgoing actions of attack and conquest are universally represented by the color red; self-preservation by its complement, green.
Since his actions, whether of attack (red) or defense (green) were at least under his control, these factors and colors are described as “autonomous,” or self-regulating. On the other hand, attack being an acquisitive and out-going action is considered to be “active.” Defense, being concerned only with self-preservation, is considered to be ‘”passive” (no matter how much action may be involved in trying to subdue a saber-toothed tiger with a club!).
The Physiology of Color
Experiments in which individuals are required to contemplate psychologically pure-red for varying lengths of time have shown that this color has a decidedly stimulating effect on the nervous system. e.g. blood pressure increases, respiration rate and heartbeat both speed up. Red is therefore, “exciting” in its effect on the nervous system, especially on the sympathetic branch of the autonomicnervous system.
Similar exposure to psychologically pure-blue on the other hand has the reverse effect—blood pressure falls, heartbeat and breathing both slow down. Dark-blue is therefore “calming” in its effect and operates chiefly through the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system.
The complicated networks of nerves and fibers by which the body and all its parts are controlled can beincluded under two main headings—the Central Nervous System (C.N.S.) and the Autonomic (or “self-regulating”) Nervous System (A.N.S.).
The central nervous system can be considered—with reasonable accuracy—as concerning itself with those physical and sensory functions which occur at, or above, the threshold of awareness. The autonomic nervous system, on the other hand, is concerned primarily with those functions which take place below the threshold of awareness and—for this very reason—must operate on an automatic, self-regulating basis. The beating of the heart, the rise and fall of the lungs, the digestion of food, in fact all the complex processes of the body which must continue without any conscious effort are functions of the autonomic nervous system.
The A.N.S. is composed of two complementary branches acting, in the main, in opposition to one another: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system, the fibers from both systems running to each of the organs in which self-regulation is essential. The heartbeat, for example, normally occurs at a rate kept within certain bounds by the balance struck between these two branches of the autonomicnervous system. Under the influence of physical (e.g., exertion, effort) or emotional (eg., fear, anger, excitement) effects, the sympathetic system will override the parasympathetic and the heartbeat will speed up.
In general terms, the sympathetic nervous system over-rides the parasympathetic nervous system under the influence of excitement, exertion or increased necessity.The parasympathetic nervous system works to restore things to normal when conditions of stress have been removed and is the dominant branch of the autonomic nervous system in conditions of calm, contentment and relaxation.
Even today, the mechanism by which color is actually “seen” and recognized as color is imperfectly understood. A simple question such as, “How do we see color?” gives rise to so many different theories in the search for an answer. Chances are good that in some way we cannot quite comprehend, we are either asking the wrong question, or are starting off with some faulty premises.
However, the “contrast theory” of the physiologist Hering seems to fit most closely with what is actually observed in the use of the Color Test. Hering observed that “visual purple” (a substance contained in the rods of the retina within the eye, and also known as “rhodopsin”) was bleached under the influence of bright colors and reconstituted itself when exposed to dark colors. Also, “light” had a catabolic (breaking-down) effect, while “dark” had an anabolic (building-up, regenerative) effect.
According to Hering. white subjected visual purple to catabolism and broke it down; black, on the other hand, brought about unabolism and restored visual purple to its original state. The same effects were found to occur with red-green and with yellow blue, resulting in a “contrast effect” applicable to all colors in terms of their brightness or darkness.
The Development of Color Vision
A newborn baby developing the ability to “see” begins by being able to distinguish contrast, that is: “bright-ness” and “darkness.” Next comes the ability to distinguish movement, and after that shape and form. The recognition of color is the last development of all. The distinction of contrast is therefore the earliest and most primitive form of visual perception.
In Man, the more sophisticated interpretations of what his senses tell him appear to be functions of the more”educated” part of the brain—the cortex. To be able to recognize and distinguish one perfume from another would be a “cortical” function and the result of educating the sense of smell; but the instinctive reaction to a “bad smell” is just that—instinctive and reactive, leading at the least to a nose-wrinkling recoil, and at the worst to nausea and vomiting. These are not cortical reactions, but arise in centers in the older and more primitive areas of the brain.
Color vision is similarly related to both educated and primitive brain, as was shown by Becker in 1953, when he proved that a network of nerve fibers led directly from a nucleus in the retina to the midbrain (mesencephalon)and to the pituitary system.
The pituitary is an endocrine, or ductless, gland lying close to the center of the brain which secretes several important hormones into the blood-stream. The importance of this gland is such that it is referred to as”the leader of the endocrine orchestra” and controls the functions of other ductless glands, as well as serving other purposes such as growth control.
The distinguishing of color, its identification, naming and any esthetic reactions to it, are all functions of the cortex; they are therefore the result of development and education rather than of instinct and reactive response. Reflexive and instinctive visual functions on the other hand appear to follow Becker’s neural network to the much more primitive mid-brain, operating in terms of Con-=trast and affecting the physical and glandular systems through the pituitary in some way which has yet to be fully understood.
“Color Blindness” Makes No Difference
It is this last factor—the instinctive response to color interms of contrast—which makes the Luscher Test a valid instrument even in cases of defective color-vision or even actual color blindness, since the acceptability of a particular color is somatically (from Greek “soma,” body; so-matic therefore means “having to do with the body”) related to the degree to which anabolism or catabolism is needed by the organism.
If it is psychically or physically in need of emotional peace, physical regeneration and release from tension or stress, then the instinctive response will be to choose the darker colors. If the organism needs to dissipate energy by outgoing activity or inmental creativeness, then the instinctive response will befor the brighter colors.
An examination into the validity of the Luscher Test in the event of color blindness was carried out by L. Steinke, using normal controls and individuals suffering from both partial and total red-green color blindness. His findings show that “color vision need not be considered in the Luscher Test at all.”
The Luscher Test
In stating preferences for this color or for that, choice is often dictated by circumstances. If the circumstances are the choice of a dress to wear, a wallpaper for the living room, a paint for the kitchen cupboards, then the resultant choice is determined not only by psychological preference or physiological need (though these will inevitably play a part) but by esthetic considerations. For example, will the dress go with general coloring or figure? What does the wallpaper do to the drapes and furniture, and so forth.
When, as in the Luscher Test, colors are presented for choice without involvement of one with the other, then aesthetic judgment becomes subordinate to personal preference, with no need to try to harmonize them with one another, nor to refer the colors to some other frame of reference. It is desirable, just the same, when the test is being given to someone else to suggest that the colors should be selected just as colors, without mental value-judgments as to their suitability for dress materials, furnishings or the upholstery of a new automobile.
In the “Full” Luscher Test there are seven different panels of colors, containing in all seventy-three color-patches, consisting of twenty-five different hues and shades, and requiring forty-three different selections to be made. The resulting test-protocol affords a wealth of information concerning the conscious and unconscious psychological structure of the individual, areas of psychic stress, the state of glandular balance or imbalance, and much physiological information of great value either to the physician or to the psychotherapist.
The complete test takes only five to eight minutes, which makes it probably the speediest test on record, while its administration is so simple that it can be taught to almost anyone in half an hour. However, the interpretation of the Full Test requires training and considerable psychological insight. For this reason, this “Introduction” includes only one of the seven panels—the so-called “Eight-color Panel.”
This shortened version of the test is known as the “QuickTest” or the “Short Luscher Test” and though not nearly so comprehensive nor so revelatory as the Full Test, it is still of considerable value in high-lighting significant aspects of the personality, and in drawing attention to areas of psychological and physiological stress where they exist.
Physicians in Europe use this short version of the test as a useful aid to diagnosis, since it has been found that such stresses show up in the Luscher Test often long before their physiological results make themselves evident; in this, the test provides them with an incomparable “early warning system” of stress ailments in their early stages—ailments such as cardiac malfunction- cerebral attack or disorders of the gastro-intestinal tract.
The physician is a busy man who has little time to spare for diagnostic media additional to those which are his normal complement, nor for the learning of complicated methods of test interpretation. With the Short Luscher Test he can with little trouble assign the actual administration of the test to his nurse-receptionist, and with a little practice on his own part, tell at a glance whether his patient has a normal test or whether there are signs of stress in areas which should be further investigated.
Quoting from Dr. J. Erbsloh in his paper on “The Use of the Luscher Color Test in Medical Practice” “We have to thank Professor Luscher for his clear recognition of the psychological significance of colors and for the development of a color test whose special advantage is its sim-plicity. It is administered by midwives in my deliveryward and by secretaries in my practice. The interpretation of the colors remains the province of the physician.”
After giving several examples of the test’s advantages for “early warning” when other methods of diagnosis had proved unproductive, he goes on to say: “The test deepens the doctor’s understanding of the patient’s psychological make-up and enables him to be less biased in his judgments. It gives important indications for use in diagnosis and therapy and also for the prognosis of certain illnesses. Because of its simplicity and reliability it can be recommended for general use.”
Its use in education is varied and extensive, and numerous investigations into this aspect have been carried out by Karlheinr, Flehinghaus and others. Ethnological (II. Klar;IL & N. Dietschy), religio-psychological (Bokslag), gerontological (Bokslag) and marriage guidance (Canziani)applications of the test have also been comprehensively investigated. Additionally, Luscher Personnel Services in London, England, has applied the test to the needs of vocational guidance and personnel selection for industry and commerce (Scott).
The test has been improved and refined since its inception, but today it is substantially the same as it was when first introduced. Interpretation has improved and become more comprehensive, but the original premises have withstood the test of time and it has not been necessary to change them in any way.
One of the largest correspondence schools in Europe has found a novel use for the Quick Test—all applicants for courses are tested and the results used to help in advising which courses and occupations the tests suggest would be the best to take up.
Mention has already been made of the four colors: blue, yellow, red and green. These are “psychological primaries”and constitute what are called the four “basic colors” of the test. In the Eight-color Panel of the Quick Test there are, of course, four more. These “auxiliary colors” are violet which is a mixture of red and blue; brown which is a mixture of yellow-red and black; and a neutral grey, containing no color at all and therefore free from any affective influence. (Its intensity places it halfway between light and dark so that it gives rise to no anabolic nor catabolk effect—it is psychologically and physiologically neutral.) Finally, there is black which is a denial of color altogether.
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