The Impact of Color

Colors, whether light or dark, vibrant or subtle, influence our perception of spaces and how we feel.

As humans, we are surrounded by color at every moment, whether it's a shadow cast on the wall of our living room, the fabric of a sofa in a hotel lounge area or the tone of our desk at work.

Curious to know more about the effect that color can have on our sensory system and how color relates to the scientific field of neuroaesthetics? Muuto sought to find out more from Susan Magsamen, Executive Director of the International Arts + Mind Lab at Johns Hopkins University.

What is neuroaesthetics?

In its simplest form, neuroaesthetics is our understanding of how our brains change in the arts. It's about looking deeply into how our sensory, perceptual, and motor systems work when we create or appreciate art, and how these systems engage with the central nervous system around things like rewards, pleasure, emotion, and cognition.

How can different forms of art help us understand ourselves and the world around us? How do they affect our behavior?

Art, in its multiple forms, allows us to fully express ourselves, process and build meaning from human experiences, large and small. The act of making art can have a very relaxing and restorative effect on the body and mind. Art also connects us to others, building bridges of understanding and empathy between different groups of people.

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If we focus on color, what role can it play in neuroaesthetics and what impact can it have on our well-being?

Color is a very interesting topic in terms of the role it plays in the world, and is vital for survival tips on a basic evolutionary level, as warm colors like red, yellow and orange are better seen by the human eye than greens and blues. We also know that our perception of colors is highly cultural; a certain color can mean something in one culture and something completely different in another. When we bring color into design, we have to be aware of it both from a neurobiological perspective and from a cultural and social perspective.

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What elements shape our perception of a certain color?

One of the things that's so interesting about color is that, although individual colors are important, the actual tone of a color plays an important role in how we respond to it on an individual level. For example, things with shades of pink tend to have a more relaxing effect on us. Understanding hue is an important aspect when thinking about color, as is context. Our perception of a certain color changes in relation to the colors that surround it.

How can color impact the way we see and experience our surroundings?

The problem with color is that we all see it differently depending on our biology. The way the brain processes colors is part of each person's perception; This is due to genetics, life experience, conditioning. We should think of color as something highly subjective. You can design a space from your perspective and with the idea that a certain color will have a certain effect on the people who will inhabit it, however this may not necessarily be true. Instead, we should consider color more as a tool within a palette that includes volume, texture, and all the other objects that make up a space. Color is highly contextual and we should approach it as such.

color in design