Sunday 23 October 2016

Interiors... Feeling blue - how colour affects our mood

Science shows how colour impacts on our mood in the home

Eleanor Flegg

Published 22/05/2015 | 02:30

Dusty 4-seater sofa from DFS €1,169
Dusty 4-seater sofa from DFS €1,169
Conway petite sofa from Next from €560
Naples sofa from Next, €486
Whitley love seat from Marks & Spencer, €1,275

THERE'S a bright yellow poppy outside my window. Strictly speaking it's a weed, but I can't bring myself to uproot it because I'm enjoying that splash of yellow too much.

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I've always been interested in finding out why colour has such a strong bearing on the way I feel, but then again, I've about as much respect for colour psychology tests as I do for the sort of social media quizzes that tell you what breed of dog you are (I'm a golden retriever, apparently).

So, it was with some degree of scepticism that I agreed to participate in a study on how colour in the home impacts people's mood and emotion. The experiment was commissioned by the sofa company DFS and carried out by a "neuromarketing" company called Mindlab.

Neuromarketing is a type of market research that uses neuroscientific techniques and technologies to measure people's responses to specific products. It's not exactly independent research, but Mindlab does use trained neuroscientists and techniques that are considered scientifically respectable. At any rate, it's a tad more in-depth than the colour psychology quizzes on social media.

I undertook three online tests, as one of 1,000 participants. The first test was to determine which colours were associated with which different feelings for me. This involved flashing up a series of colours at speed alongside an accompanying word and asking me to deem the combination to be either "positive" or "negative" - and it took time to work my reactions up to an acceptable speed to legitimise the results.

The second was to find people's favourite room colours; for this they showed me rapid sequences of pairs of pictures of the exact same room in two different colours, asking me to eliminate one picture from the pair each time.

The third test was deployed to find people's favourite sofa colours and essentially was the exact same as the last test but with pictures of sofas instead of rooms.

Regretfully, I didn't participate in the fourth level of the survey, where a small number of people were invited into the lab for EEG scanning. Yes you did read that right - they actually did bring people into a laboratory, rig up wires to their heads and then measure the electrical activity in their brains in response to sofa colours.

Because I participated as a journalist, I was given my own personalised results which indicated that my most contented colour was blue and I am most likely to choose a green room and an orange sofa. Really?

And if I were a character in Game of Thrones, I'd be Jon Snow. I did that test too.

Cynicism aside, the overall results of this experiment indicated that the sofa-buying public currently has a preference for blue, teal and grey. Blue is energising, teal is relaxing, and grey makes them feel comfortable. Given the current popularity of teal, I'm also curious how much of this colour preference is influenced by fashion. "I do think that colour has associations that go deeper than fashion," says Juliane Beard, a neuroscientist from Mindlab. "The results of the test did seem to suggest a strong correlation between certain colours and specific emotions."

The results also suggested that red made people agitated (we knew that one forgodsakes!) and that orange left them feeling tired. For me, orange is a happy colour, although I have encountered shades of orange that did make me feel exhausted (usually in combinations with 1970s smoked glass).

This makes me wonder how much people's reaction to the survey depended on the actual colours used in the graphics - which were limited to one shade of each. In the real world, and especially in a room where the light changes, there's no such thing as a standard blue or grey. And there can be very subtle differences between a calming shade and a dour one.

If you feel like investing in a pretty sofa, the selection from DFS comes in many colours and costs from €400 to €3,000, with most people paying between €1,200 and €1,500 for a three-seater ( Sofas from Marks and Spencer range from €579 to €2,829, depending on the shape and fabric.

The Whitley Loveseat in ­Dinara weave costs €1,275 (

The pink and pretty Conway petit from Next costs €486 ( Just be aware the colour of the sofa has to work within the context of the room around it.

"The way that colour works in interiors is very different to the way that it works in graphic design," says the interior designer Maria MacVeigh (

"When you're choosing a colour you need to see it in daylight and incandescent light, because that's what you're going to be working with."

Another factor in using colour in the home is that the available shades are dictated by industry.

"There are cycles of design in interiors, as there are in fashion, but the cycles tend to be longer and slower. There's also a trickle-down effect. If teal, for example, comes into fashion it will take a couple of years before it emerges in upholstery and, by that time, the quality of the colour will be quite different from the one that emerged on the catwalk," MacVeigh explains. For this reason, she recommends using craft objects to bring colour into the home.

"The quality of colour in a handwoven cushion or ceramic piece will be quite different from a mass-produced one. The craftsperson has complete control of the colour and it will be a more subtle shade than a mass-produced piece where the colour has been reduced to a simple layer."

MacVeigh's opinion is that people definitely find warm bright colours cheerful and comforting, but it depends on the shade. Bright yellow can be acidic or bright red can be harsh.

"Our landscape shows us the colours that we need to be using. At the moment, the gorse is in flower and the Wicklow hills are a carpet of yellow. It's uplifting, even when the sky is grey, in the same way that a drift of daffodils are uplifting. But using an acidic yellow cushion to accent an old grey sofa doesn't give the same effect."

The solution, she feels, is to bring in real flowers. It's that simple. In the meantime, I'm still enjoying the yellow poppy outside my window.

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