Color Stories


We all feel the blues now and then.

That color has a profound effect on our moods, behaviors and wellbeing. Its tranquil quality can make us feel relaxed. But it also can contribute to depression. It has been shown to boost our mental acuity and creativity. But it also is known to suppress our appetite. Spanish artist Joan Miro, whose peinture-posie (painting poetry) is featured above, refers to blue as the “color of my dreams.”

We at A.I. Labs are fascinated by the ability of colors — not just blue, but all colors — to shape our moods, behaviors, wellbeing, and even purchasing decisions. (In fact, 85% of consumers say they choose a particular product or service on the basis of its color palette.)

To learn more, we hosted two recent Tastemaker Conversations with experts in the field. Below are just a few of our Aesthetic Aha’s from these two events.


Our first live event featured two executives from one of the world’s leading paint brands Benjamin MooreMeredith Kinsman, Vice President of Brand & Digital Marketing and Andrea Magno, Director of Color Marketing & Development. These two women taught us not only how to differentiate premium quality paints from lower-quality options, but also how to select the perfect shade of paint for our own walls.


How Colors Affect Our Taste & Smell

We also hosted an intimate conversation for one of our corporate clients, featuring Prof. Charles Spence, a preeminent expert in multi-sensory perception. Among other areas of research, Charles researches how enjoyment of food can be enhanced through stimulation of other sensory modalities. For the purposes of this newsletter, we’ll focus only on his comments about color. (Stay tuned for more of his insights on cross-modal perception in an upcoming newsletter.)

Click here for a tidbit from our conversation with Charles

Below are just a few more of our own takeaways on color from these experts and others…

  1. Perception of color depends on anatomy

Let’s start with the basics. How do we even see color? In a nutshell, light travels into the retina, which houses light receptive cells called rods and cones. When these cells detect light, they send signals to the brain. Most people have three types of cone cells. Their combined responses produce distinct signals for each color. Color-blind people (4.5% of the population) cannot distinguish certain colors because of defects in one or more of their cone cells.

  1. Perception of color also depends on language

Researchers have discovered that language actually trains our brain to perceive colors differently. What this means is that once we’ve assigned a name to a color, our perception of it sharpens, as does our ability to distinguish it from other colors.

As evidence, the Himba people of Namibia, who do not have different words for blue and green, have difficulty differentiating these two hues.

There’s evidence of this phenomenon in ancient times as well. For example, legendary Greek author Homer rarely referred to colors in his extensive descriptive writings. His palate was mostly limited to blacks and whites, and, when he did refer to color, he used , he made peculiar references. (The sea was described as “wine-dark” and the sky as “bronze”.)

During our live event, Meredith and Andrea talked about the effect of color names on their commercial success. (“The right name really enhances people’s connection to the color… and has a direct impact on whether they will like the color or not”.) This may explain why customers steer clear of shades like “mayonnaise“, “dragon’s blood,” and “gray area.”

  1. Color affects us psychologically 

Prof. Spence’s research shows how the lighting in a room and color of a wall dramatically affect our emotions and desires (as well as distastes). The effects are not only caused by the actual hue (e.g., red, blue, green), but also by their saturation (i.e., the purity or vividness of the color) and by their brightness (i.e., dark v. light). For instance, studies show:

  • People are more prone to making errors when proofreading in a white room as opposed to a red or blue room.
  • People perceive red cars as moving faster – and making more noise – than cars of any other color.
  • Relatedly, European football teams who wore red performed better than when playing in other colors.
  • When it comes to wine tastings, red lights accentuate the fruitiness, while green brings out the wine’s fresher notes.

4. Don’t underestimate the power of undertones

Undertones are the colors that lie underneath the surface. They make a color look cool or warm. They’re the result of blending more than one color together, like blue with a black tint (for indigo) or blue with a green tint (turquoise).

So, when looking for the ideal shade for your walls, follow Meredith’s advice and try before you buy. “In the store you will not be able to pick up on the undertones. So bring paint samples home and see how they react to the light. Maybe you’ll love a particular shade on a sunny day, but not on a rainy day.”

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