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How Colors Affect You: What Science Reveals

How Colors Affect You: What Science Reveals

Professor William Lidwell M.S.
University of Houston
Course No.  7022
Course No.  7022
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Course Overview

About This Course

6 lectures  |  33 minutes per lecture

There's more to colors than just aesthetics. There's an actual science behind how colors work on your eyes and your brain. And the secrets that scientists are uncovering offer astounding revelations on how colors influence the way you think, feel, and behave—often without your conscious awareness.

It's an exciting time in the scientific study of how colors affect us. Thanks to recent research, we now understand more richly how our brains are affected by color. And knowing how colors affect us informs how we tap into their power to create environments and achieve a breathtaking range of visual goals. It also allows us to dodge popular myths and misconceptions about color that can easily lead businesses and companies to make costly mistakes.

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There's more to colors than just aesthetics. There's an actual science behind how colors work on your eyes and your brain. And the secrets that scientists are uncovering offer astounding revelations on how colors influence the way you think, feel, and behave—often without your conscious awareness.

It's an exciting time in the scientific study of how colors affect us. Thanks to recent research, we now understand more richly how our brains are affected by color. And knowing how colors affect us informs how we tap into their power to create environments and achieve a breathtaking range of visual goals. It also allows us to dodge popular myths and misconceptions about color that can easily lead businesses and companies to make costly mistakes.

Consider, for example, these scientific truths about color:

  • Black uniforms tend to increase aggression and intimidation in conflict situations.
  • Red ties can give you an edge in confrontational negotiations, while blue ties can express a desire to collaborate.
  • Fire trucks increasingly are painted yellow because that's the color most visible to our eyes.
  • Aligning the right colors to products, brands, and ads can make or break a business's success.

That's only a small sampling of the increasingly detailed information we have about what colors mean. And what's truly surprising: The way our eyes perceive and our brains interpret reds, greens, blues, blacks, and other colors isn't a subjective experience, but a hard-wired one. It's a profound concept—one whose ramifications extend to everything from business and advertising to politics and entertainment to your personal diet and love life.

A must-have course for corporate leaders, design professionals, marketers, and anyone who communicates visually, How Colors Affect You: What Science Reveals tells you everything you need to know about the science of color and its impact on all aspects of human experience. Delivered by design expert and professor William Lidwell of the University of Houston, these six lectures explore

  • the history, science, and cultural importance of the six universal colors,
  • how our brains have evolved to respond to colors without our conscious awareness,
  • the key experiments that have shaped our understanding of how colors work, and
  • ways to more effectively apply the science of color to achieve your personal or professional goals for a space.

Taken together, these lectures will open your eyes to why your favorite products practically jump off the shelf; why certain logos are more memorable than others; why particular scenes in nature evoke peace, joy, or fear; and so much more.

See Colors in a Whole New Way

Each lecture takes you inside the science behind a specific color or color pair, following the order in which humans have historically acquired color categories: black and white (which always come paired), red, yellow, green, and blue. In each instance, you'll investigate

  • the history and common usage of the color,
  • some of the biggest myths related to that color,
  • what scientific research has revealed about the meaning of that color, and
  • specific situational contexts that show how the color operates in the real world.

Central to this course is the expanse of information about how these colors work on our brains to steer our thoughts and actions. You'll draw intriguing connections between colors and specific moods such as anger, fear, and love. You'll go behind the scenes and watch the fascinating experiments and case studies that scientists have used to uncover what they know about color. And you'll finally understand the (often hidden) significance behind the colors of your everyday life.

Debunk Common Myths about Color

As interesting as the research about color is understanding how researchers arrived at those results. To aid you in this understanding, Professor Lidwell has created a virtual laboratory that incorporates exciting green-screen technology to recreate key color experiments that have proven integral to our current scientific understanding of how colors affect us. As he conducts you step-by-step through these visually dynamic experiments, he points out that a lot of what we think we know about color turns out to be wrong. And if you're a design or marketing professional, it's essential to know the truth about color choices so that your business or company dodges expensive mistakes and maximizes profits.

While bringing you up to date on the latest discoveries in the field, Professor Lidwell debunks a number of persistent color myths. You'll learn that

  • pink rooms will not calm aggressive prisoners or sap the strength of opposing teams;
  • yellow walls in the nursery will not cause babies to cry more often;
  • blue tableware or kitchen walls will not suppress your appetite (although food that's dyed blue certainly will); and more.

It's just the kind of eye-opening learning experience you'd expect from someone of Professor Lidwell's impressive background. Not only has he spent his career immersed in the intricate world of color as a designer, teacher, and best-selling author of Universal Principles of Design—he's lent his expertise as a consultant to major companies, including IKEA and Merrill Lynch.

With How Colors Affect You, you'll get a beautiful new perspective on color—one rooted in credible scientific knowledge and not popular myth. Once the curtain has been pulled back to show the myriad ways color truly shapes your life, you'll never look at the world in the same way again.

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6 Lectures
  • 1
    The Meanings of Color
    Begin your exploration of how colors affect you with a look at the general science behind color, first uncovered during landmark experiments by Isaac Newton. Then, investigate the pervasive power of color on human behavior with a close look at how color shapes our perception of what food tastes like. Finally, with the aid of intriguing experiments and illuminating case studies, discover the three core ideas that form the foundation of how all humans perceive, interpret, and respond to color. x
  • 2
    The Black and White Lecture
    Contrary to what you may think, black and white are colors like any other when examined from the perspective of what your brain sees. In fact, they’re the only true universal colors. In this fascinating lecture, Professor Lidwell takes you inside the meanings behind these two elemental colors. You focus on two specific contexts for black and white: competitive contexts (where black signals aggression and white signals submission) and moral contexts (where black signals evil and white signals goodness). x
  • 3
    The Red Lecture
    Turn now to the color red, which holds a unique place in the pantheon of colors, thanks to its primal significance in expressing fear, strength, beauty, status, and passion. What do we know with confidence about the meanings behind the color red? Find out by examining several powerful examples of the color red at work: in competitive situations, where it signals dominance; in mating and courtship roles, where it represents male status and female fertility; and in more general situations, where it signals danger and avoidance. x
  • 4
    The Yellow Lecture
    Why is yellow the most vibrant color to the human eye? How does the human eye detect yellow wavelengths so effectively? Why is there such a fine line between “good” and “bad” shades of yellow? When does yellow signal health or weakness, happiness or danger? How can it work to help increase cognitive performance? Find the answers to these and other provocative questions in this richly detailed and rewarding lecture on one of nature’s most powerful colors. x
  • 5
    The Green Lecture
    Life. Fertility. Envy. Success. These are just a few of the many common associations the brain makes with the color green. Here, Professor Lidwell takes you even deeper into this lush color, guiding you through an exploration of two lesser-known contexts of green: as a way to foster creativity and a way to reduce anxiety and mental fatigue. You’ll also get a chance to probe some more anecdotal (but self-evident) psychological associations with green, including the ways it signals “naturalness” and “approach.” x
  • 6
    The Blue Lecture
    In this final lecture, focus on the last color in the logical color sequence and one of the most commonly chosen favorite colors throughout the world: blue. As you’ll discover, there are some interesting and unique properties of the color blue that set it apart from other colors and make it seem, in some respects, almost magical. You’ll learn about the ways blue fosters and promotes openness and creativity; friendliness and peacefulness; alertness and well-being; and also sadness and melancholy. x

Lecture Titles

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William Lidwell
M.S. William Lidwell
University of Houston

Professor William Lidwell lectures at the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture at the University of Houston. He also serves as Director of Innovation and Development at the Stuff Creators Design Studio in Houston, Texas. He earned his B.A. in Psychology from Texas State University and his M.S. in Interaction and Instructional Design from the University of Houston-Clear Lake. A designer, teacher, and author, Professor Lidwell has over 20 years of experience working in product design and user interaction. He frequently consults on matters of design and consumer experience with leading firms, including Harrah's, IKEA, Merrill Lynch, and Procter & Gamble. He also founded and has supported numerous start-up companies, ranging from online learning environments to heirloom furniture design stores to food trucks. Professor Lidwell is the author of the best-selling design guide Universal Principles of Design, which has been translated into more than 20 languages. He has written and edited other works, including Deconstructing Product Design, the Makeshift column for MAKE Magazine, and Guidelines for Excellence in Management.

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Reviews

Rated 4.3 out of 5 by 52 reviewers.
Rated 4 out of 5 by Informative and entertaining This was a short and interesting course. Appropriate scientific studies were covered and the professor was very well-informed, with an excellent presentation style. Highlights were the studies showing how colors influence your perception (eg simply adding the color red to water makes many people perceive a strawberry taste), how certain color clothing make people appear more attractive, aggressive, passive etc, and how marketters use color to influence consumer choices. I truely enjoyed the course, but I must admit, I have always been a skeptic of drawing general conclusions and life lessons from simple controlled laboratory experiments on young healthy college students. Nonetheless, these studies were quite illuminating on just how much color affects our daily thinking. I do recommend the course especially since it is short, to the point, and informative. It is well worth the time. September 30, 2013
Rated 5 out of 5 by Lends color to my TGC library It’s no white lie to say this was an interesting, fast-moving, and entertaining course. Sure, it might be fair to say I’m looking at the video through rose-colored glasses. After all, it is in fact only 6 lectures—too short and not quite deep enough. Nevertheless, this positive review shouldn’t be coming out of the blue. Maybe you’ll be tickled pink by this course, too. Get it. It’s good for your gray matter. That’s the short review. Adding a little more, I really liked the stage setting, so great job on that front. In my opinion, Professor Lidwell is a fine presenter, speaks well, and made good use of gestures. The content was well-organized, with each lecture sequenced the same way. Some information will be old news if you read a lot, while other content will be new. I found the course to be practical and useful. I guess I should buy some new clothes. The case studies and research were interesting, but I would have like to hear more about the studies themselves. If they were flawed, it’d be nice to know why. It didn’t seem that overly academic or technical; don’t know why, but watching this course was a guilty pleasure. Recommended, but how about some more of the same? July 1, 2013
Rated 4 out of 5 by colors course I liked it a lot but i wish it was a little longer and covered additional colors like Orange, Purple, Gray, Pink, etc September 8, 2014
Rated 4 out of 5 by Good Short Course I did studies in colour as part of a Printing Survey Certificate. It was mainly related to printing and booking binding. We learnt about the colour wheeIs as related to additive (light) and subtractive (printing) colour. I also have a Trade Certificate in Binding and Finishing (bookbinding), and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Psychophysiology (neural science), in which we studied the eye. Being only six lectures of half an hour each, this course was a basic introduction to the affect of colours, a good place to start. This course added to my knowledge from years ago. The lectures are about black and white, red, yellow green and blue. In such a short course, the examples used, some relating to sport, will not please everybody. I do not watch sport very often, but I am still interested in the affects of colour as I also have Certificate 3 in Fitness Instruction. There is a list of books at the end of the blue lecture, if you want to find out more, though they rolled through a little fast to read. Luckily there is the pause button. I thought the lecturer did a good job in the short amount of time he had for each lecture. For some people 30 minutes per lecture is enough. The next course could be a longer one on colour, September 1, 2014
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