What Color Is Your Anger? Assessing Color-Emotion Pairings in English Speakers

Front Psychol. 2019 Feb 26;10:206. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00206. eCollection 2019.


Do English-speakers think about anger as "red" and sadness as "blue"? Some theories of emotion suggests that color(s)-like other biologically-derived signals- should be reliably paired with an emotion, and that colors should differentiate across emotions. We assessed consistency and specificity for color-emotion pairings among English-speaking adults. In study 1, participants (n = 73) completed an online survey in which they could select up to three colors from 23 colored swatches (varying hue, saturation, and light) for each of ten emotion words. In study 2, different participants (n = 52) completed a similar online survey except that we added additional emotions and colors (which better sampled color space). Participants in both studies indicated the strength of the relationship between a selected color(s) and the emotion. In study 1, four of the ten emotions showed consistency, and about one-third of the colors showed specificity, yet agreement was low-to-moderate among raters even in these cases. When we resampled our data, however, none of these effects were likely to replicate with statistical confidence. In study 2, only two of 20 emotions showed consistency, and three colors showed specificity. As with the first study, no color-emotion pairings were both specific and consistent. In addition, in study 2, we found that saturation and lightness, and to a lesser extent hue, predicted color-emotion agreement rather than perceived color. The results suggest that previous studies which report emotion-color pairings are likely best thought of experiment-specific. The results are discussed with respect to constructionist theories of emotion.

Keywords: color; color-emotion pairings; data resampling; emotion; theories of emotion.