A Daily Dose of the Color Blue – How Seeing Blue May Help Keep Us From Feeling Blue

By Artina Dozier-Gage

What impact, if any, do the visual characteristics of our environment, in this case color, have on our mental or emotional health? There are more than a few schools of thought on the subject, with input from experts and thought leaders from fields that you would expect, such as scientists, psychologist, therapists, and life coaches as well as those from which you may not expect, such as, designers (especially interior designers) and color theorists. We’ll touch on a few of these points of view, but want to be upfront in disclosing that while the discussion and research of the affects of color on mental health and wellness may be a worthwhile, the fact is, currently there is no consensus or conclusive scientific evidence that supports the linkage between particular colors and health outcomes; further, we are not suggesting that maintaining or working towards good mental health or wellness, can be achieved by way of certain color exposure. We believe that the study and understanding of mental wellness is complex and that attaining good mental health requires an ongoing and multifaceted approach often requiring the support or guidance from certified health professionals.

For this exploration we chose to begin with the role that color plays in design. Have you ever wondered why healthcare environments, such as hospitals, clinics, facilities for therapeutical practices are often painted in light colors, such as whites, greens, and blues? Well, in the design world color theory and the belief system surrounding color’s affect on one’s mood and/or emotional state is prevalent and somewhat of a cornerstone in some designers’ philosophy and approach as it relates to planning interior spaces.

In the article, A summary of Color in Healthcare Environments: A Critical Review of the Research Literature, the author who’s an interior designer, writes about the number one question asked by his clients, a list that includes countless hospitals and healthcare environments across the United States, which is, “What would make their patients and staff feel better?” This question and the article in general reveals that (however scientifically unsubstantiated it is) many of us believe that color does, in fact, make us feel something or someway—and that the particular way it makes us feel whether it’s good, bad, relaxed, excited, etc. depends on the particular color.

The research report, Color in Healthcare Environments – A Research Report published on The Center for Health Design website, discusses Robert M. Gerard’s study on the effects of different colors. Gerard began his scientific investigation by “measuring his subjects’ blood pressure, palmary conductance, respiration rate, heart rate, eye blink frequency and EEG.” Gerard “found that red could lead to an increase in blood pressure, respiration, and frequency of eye blink, whereas blue had the opposite effect.”

Gerard’s results gave rise to his proposition that, “The response to color is differential—that is, different colors arouse different feelings and emotions and activate the organism to a different degree.”

The report also describes the Jacob and Suess study that investigated the effects of color on the state of a person’s anxiety. “They showed subjects color slides…and observed higher anxiety scores under the red and yellow conditions than in the green and blue situations. The report discussed other studies that had similar results that suggest the color blue and green induced calming feelings of relief…”

In the article, The Surprising Benefits of Blue Spaces the author sites experts from Glasgow Caledonian University who based on asserts that, “spending time in blue spaces lowers the risk of stress, anxiety, obesity, cardiovascular disease and premature death.” Additionally, researchers at the University of Sussex conducted a study that “asked 20,000 people to record their feelings at random times. They collected over a million responses and found that people were by far the happiest when they were in blue spaces. However, it became clear that in this particular article the focus on the color blue was less consequential than in other articles on the subject. The positive impacts on mental health, it seems, had somewhat less to do with the color itself and more to do with where the color is most often found, that is in natural environments. Psychologists and researchers sited in the article, including from the source, Happiness is Greater in Natural Environments associates increased mental wellbeing with close proximity to fresh open air, large bodies of water, in short, nature.

The article goes on to say that, “A growing body of evidence indicates that human health, both mental and physical, is intrinsically linked to nature.

More specifically, studies have concluded that while being in natural environments in general is good for our health, that being in so called “blue spaces” i.e. near rivers, lakes, etc. provide even more mental and physical wellbeing that of so called, “green spaces.”

One thing is clear, studies around this subject will be ongoing and conclusions are likely to continue on their varied path. In the meantime, take the family or perhaps just yourself for a nice loop around Belle Isle or whatever body of water you may find yourself near and take some time during the daylight hours to take in the vast blue sky and witness its’ prowess.

Artina Dozier-Gage is the Public Affairs and Social Media Manager at Authority Health