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Dynamic Chiropractic – July 15, 1994, Vol. 12, Issue 15

The Influence of Color

By Abne Eisenberg
Colors speak all languages. The colors you and your patients wear and their reaction to the colors in your office could provide you with valuable diagnostic and therapeutic information. While color diagnosis and color therapy cannot be found in the mainstream of conventional healing, they definitely warrant serious attention. To reinforce this recommendation, here is an overview of some of the data pertaining to color. Perhaps, after reading it, you will be inspired to rethink the role color plays in your personal and professional life. Incidentally, the original meaning of the word color meant, "outward appearance -- hiding what is inside."

In Max Lusher's book, The Lusher Color Test, he claims that when people look at pure red for a long time, their blood pressure, respiratory rate, and heartbeat all increase. This occurs because the red tends to excite the nervous system. Blue, conversely, has just the opposite effect; i.e., blood pressure, respiratory rate, and heartbeat all decrease. Color in the environment actually has a wide-ranging impact, affecting everything from patients' mental abilities to their physiological responses.

Since time immemorial, color has influenced mankind. Its meaning, however, differs from country to country, culture to culture. For example, red in China is a color for joyous and festive occasions, whereas in Japan it is used to signify anger and danger. Blue for the Cherokee Indian signifies defeat, but for the Egyptian, it signifies virtue and truth, while yellow signifies happiness and prosperity. In the Japanese theater, blue is the color for villains. In 10th century France, yellow colored the doors of criminals. Indeed, the differences are many.

Color in Your World, by Faber Birren, adds still another dimension to the world of color. Birren submits that people who like blue are inclined to be conservative, introspective, and deliberate; they are also sensitive to themselves and others. Those who dislike blue tend to feel that their emotional and intellectual lives are not fulfilled.

Some years back, airlines discovered that having the interior of an aircraft painted blue increased the anxiety of passengers who had a fear of flying. They solved the problem by changing to earth colors. This made their passengers feel more secure.

Temperature sensations, likewise, are affected by color. In one cafeteria, the thermostat was set at what should have been a comfortable level, yet customers complained the place was cold. An interior designer suggested changing the color of the walls and the complaints stopped.

A city jail in San Diego had its walls painted pink, baby blue, and peach on the assumption that pastel colors would have a calming effect upon the inmates. Similarly, the cell bars of an Oregon correctional institution were done in soft green, blues, and buffs; some cell doors were painted bright yellow, orange, green, and blue. The superintendent of the institution said that the color schemes would be continually changed to keep it "an exciting place to work and live in."

German researchers in Munich went off in another direction by questioning whether color had an effect upon mental ability. To test their hunch, they placed one group of children in brightly colored rooms to play and another group in rooms painted white, black, or brown. They discovered that the children playing in the brightly colored rooms showed an immediate increase in I.Q. of 12 points, while those playing in the "ugly" rooms showed a drop of 14 points. While the color red has the reputation of "turning on the brain," green and blue help develop, nurture and apply new ideas.

The effects of color on learning has been demonstrated over and over again. The Department of Education in Connecticut (1961), in a series of studies conducted in the school setting, found that in schools where color changes were made, students showed pride in their school and a decrease in behavior problems, including vandalism. They wondered whether it was cheaper to paint schools every year than to replace broken windows.

Color can also affect moods. Imagine how your patients might feel if your examining room was painted bright red and your treatment rooms, black. The colors would definitely influence how they felt. Consensus among color researchers dictates that blue and green tones are relaxing -- yellow and orange arousing, invigorating, and energizing -- reds and blacks sensuous -- grays and browns depressing. Curiously, red appears to also alter time perception. Not only do fast food restaurants take advantage of this phenomenon to get you to eat and leave quickly, they also use color to encourage your appetite. McDonald uses their red and yellow arch, Burger King their red and orange hamburger logo, and Wendy's their red signs.

L.B. Wexner presented eight colors and eleven mood-tones to 94 subjects. His results revealed that subjects chose red as exciting-stimulating 61 times; blue as tender-soothing 41 times; black as powerful-strong-masterful 48 times; purple as dignified-stately 45 times; and brown as unhappy-melancholy 25 times. While these findings should by no means be taken as absolute, they should simply be used as overall guideposts.

Geography, personality, and education are also targets of color study. For example, people who live in southern countries prefer white or bright colors and dark shades close to black in value. People living in temperate countries generally like grey or neutral colors. Those who grew up in the West or Midwest tend to prefer warm and neutral-warm colors; those who grew up in green and flat areas have a definite preference for cool and neutral-cool tones; those who grew up in mountainous areas prefer either bright-cool or neutral-cool colors.

When probing personality, researchers found that introverts tend to prefer less saturated tones and cool colors, while extroverts favor bright and warm colors. Reflect for a moment on your extroverted patients. Do they tend to display bright and warm colors? And, the introverted ones -- do they favor more subdued colors? How about you and your staff; do the aforementioned colors agree with your preferences and those of your staff?

About education. Highly educated people and older people with a relatively high income and high socioeconomic status tend to exhibit a preference for delicate colors with unusual hues and little contrast.

Color, itself, should never be viewed as a solitary determinant of any physical or mental state, but rather in concert with other factors in a given context. We cannot and should not make any final judgments about the impact of color on human interaction until behavioral studies link different colored environments with different types of verbal behavior or communication patterns.

Traditionally, hospital interiors were painted white. As time went on, the color trend moved to green -- which didn't work -- because green is often associated with sickness and nausea. These same hospitals are presently having large pieces of equipment, such as x-ray machines, the same color as the background walls so they do not appear as frightening to patients. Even food trays have begun to take on bright accents. Sheets and blankets are now issued in softer colors -- pinks, blues, pastels -- rather than sterile, cold white. Yes, hospitals are experimenting with using various colors for rooms in hopes that these colors will motivate sick people to get well; colors generating feelings associated with such emotions as pleasantness, security, calmness, tenderness, control and wellness.

Throughout history, colors have been assigned different symbolic meanings. It was not too long ago that barber-surgeons advertised their professions (surgery) by placing red and white striped poles outside their shops. Many barbers, though they no longer perform surgery, still perpetuate the custom.

To this day, color occupies a prominent place in our language. The following idioms illustrate this inclination: painting the town red; seeing the world through rose-colored glasses; red hot news; once in a blue moon; yell blue murder; black is beautiful; green with envy; white as a sheet (or ghost); in the red (as opposed to in the black; a yellow-belly; brown as a bunny (or bear); and tickled pink. These are but a few of the multitude of expressions which incorporate color.

When it comes to differential diagnosis, think of the role played by color in such conditions as: hypertension, jaundice, inflammation, empyema, cardiopathy, necrosis, scleroderma, or conjunctivitis. Because each displays unique color differences, special attention must be paid. For example, schizophrenics, especially chronic or deteriorated ones, use color very boldly, and usually in displeasing combinations: red is often used where it contrasts unpleasantly with other colors; objects are often colored at variance with their real colors; and color is often independent of the form.

A doctor's observational skill should not be limited to pathology. In an age where an holistic approach to healing is steadily growing in popularity, it is essential that color be taken into consideration when it comes to the care and management of the chiropractic patient. This should include the color of a patient's clothes, car, jewelry, and even the interior of their home or apartment on a residence call. All may disclose something about their personality, character or temperament.

Re-evaluate the colors comprising the environment of your office. What color is your adjusting table, rugs, walls, patient gowns, staff uniforms, office exterior? Experiment by changing the colors to which your patients are exposed -- even the color of the bathroom soap. Ask your patients for feedback. Ask them how the colors you use make them feel; see how the changes make you feel. In summation, become more sensitive to the influence of color and the role it plays in the practice of chiropractic.

Abne M. Eisenberg, DC, PhD
Croton on Hudson, NY

Editor's Note: As a professor of communication, Dr. Eisenberg is frequently asked to speak at conventions and regional meetings. For further information regarding speaking engagements, you may call (914) 271-4441, or write to Two Wells Avenue, Croton-on-Hudson, New York 10520.

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