Quirks & Quarks

Why is it that we associate some colours with specific emotions?

Dr. Nafissa Ismail has two answers on why we associate some colours with specific emotions.
The colours we associate with different emotions can vary as we age. (Sheng Li/Reuters)

Arlo Auld, 8, in Ottawa asks: "Why is it that we associate some colours with specific emotions, and does that association come from our brain or through our culture?"

Dr. Nafissa Ismail, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Ottawa, says the answer to Arlo's question is both.

In infancy humans are attracted by and to colour. We have evolved to find some bright colours more appealing. In our earlier years, a colour and an attraction to it is universal. But as we get older it becomes a more personal preference. Regardless, it is an association based on learned experiences.    

Ismail says one individual might link the colour red for instance with Valentine's Day and hearts. Others may associated red with fire and danger.

So to answer the question, the association is made in the brain, but the specific colour that goes with it is cultural.