Everybody knows how important it is to dress smartly when you are meeting a client for the first time or attending an interview, but could the colour of your clothes really give you the edge?
A scientific study of the relationship between colour and emotion by Helen Epps, PhD and Naz Kaya, PhD recently unearthed from the University of Georgia archives offers some fresh insights into this tantalising possibility.
Choose a green tie, and don’t blend colours!
Epps and Kaya asked a group of 98 participants to indicate their emotional responses to five principle colours (“hues”) of red, yellow, green, blue, and purple, as well as five intermediate hues of yellow-red, green-yellow, blue-green, purple-blue, and red-purple, and three “achromatic” colours of white, gray, and black.
The researchers then recorded the number of positive, negative, and neutral responses of the participants to each of these colours.
The results showed that green was rated the most positively with 95.9% of participants associating positive emotions such as “relaxation and calmness, followed by happiness, comfort, peace, hope, and excitement.”
Green was closely followed by yellow (93.9%) and blue (79.6%) with red (64.3%) and purple (64.3%) trailing behind.
Before you ditch your current wardrobe and rush out to the shops, though, just one word of caution about blending colours. The researchers found that the results of intermediate hues did not necessarily reflect the combined averages scores of the principle colours.
Green-yellow, for example, while scoring in the top two places individually, plummeted to a measly 24.5% positive approval, with over 70% of people expressing negative emotions including feelings of sickness and disgust.
Red-purple together, however, crept up the rankings to 76.5% with yellow-red (74.5%) and purple-blue (65.3%) following closely behind. Blue-green managed an impressive 81.6% by triggering thoughts of “the ocean and the sky” which perhaps throws some doubt on the oft-quoted style adage “blue and green should never be seen.”
What about traditional ‘work’ colours?
Finally, the researchers explored the “achromatic” colours of white, grey, and black. White received a mixed reaction, with 60% of people responding positively, but 36% responding negatively with comments that white could sometimes feel “empty and void.”
Black was, perhaps unsurprisingly, negatively perceived by 78.6% of participants but a significant minority (19.4%) reported positive associations with “royalty, power, and wealth.”
The clear overall loser in the battle of the colours was grey, with only a tiny percentage (7.1%) of people responding positively and the vast majority (89.8%) describing feelings of “sadness, depression, boredom, and confusion, as well as tiredness, loneliness, anger, and fear.” The researchers did not reveal whether the predominance of grey suits in business should be thought of as cause or an effect of this phenomenon.
No ‘silver bullet’
In summary, it is important to think carefully about the colours that you wear but, equally, individual tastes can vary so the colour of your shirt is unlikely to ever be the “silver bullet” that will guarantee your acceptance and approval when you meet somebody for the first time.
It probably will serve you well, however, to stay away from grey to avoid being thought of as “boring” and to steer clear of yellow-green to prevent people from associating you with feeling “nauseous”…
Peter Roy is a freelance project manager and productivity consultant; his favourite colour is indigo!