How Colors Affect You: What Science Reveals

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

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
 |  Average 33 minutes each
  • 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

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Your professor

William Lidwell

About Your Professor

William Lidwell, M.S.
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...
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How Colors Affect You: What Science Reveals is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 159.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Can be applied just about anywhere! I enjoyed this course so much, I watched it a second time a week later, because the information is fascinating. The course is listed as being good for people who are parts of corporations and in design, etc. I am neither of those things, but the ways color affects people's views of you and situations applies for everyone. The animation which accompany the course is also very engaging. Prof. Lidwell presents very compelling and entertaining studies and examples. I highly recommend this course. If you are deciding between video and audio, video is imperative to get the full impact of what is presented here.
Date published: 2020-03-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting and professional presented. I like using this these courses to advance and freshen my knowledge.
Date published: 2020-03-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting but conflicting studies on colors The lectures were eye-opening and useful. I did not agree with some of the observations and felt like some of the information was conflicting on what different colors did in different applications. All in all, a fun video to watch and share.
Date published: 2019-12-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So much information! This course covered more than i anticipated it would. It was great information.
Date published: 2019-09-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from COLOUR MY WORLD Thoroughly enjoyed this very, informative Lecture on colours - what they mean to others in their perception of us. A very, highly, recommended Lecture for anyone from the typical, average, person on how they dress, to the business person on how he or she presents themselves or as a Company representative. What you don't know really does effect you therefore, the colour of your "parachute" does stand out in speaking for you. Ever have people comment on a certain dress, shirt or outfit you wear ? It is the colour, which radiates from what you are donning, that is most captivating !
Date published: 2019-09-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Context is Everything When It Comes to Color What makes this course worth taking is that color has different meanings and implications based on how it's being applied (context) that's not something you will get from an info-graphic or a website let alone the history of human evolution in regards to color. I left the course wanting to know more about some of the colors that were not covered such as: purple, pink and orange. Please consider adding these three additional lessons. Question: Does being aware of how color impacts our perceptions, negate some of these impacts?
Date published: 2019-07-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very interesting and informative I gave it a four star and not five because this course does not really helps you with home color selection. I was looking for a deeper help on this. On the other hand, I does help on clothes and merchandising color selection. Using colors to your advantage and when to use certain colors. Very, very informative. This course is amazing.
Date published: 2019-07-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Interesting I found the material enlightening. Made me think how corporations use colors to lure people to buy their products.
Date published: 2019-06-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from If you like statistics, this is the course for you.
Date published: 2019-04-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting, novel, and thought-provoking This was a kind of hybrid among esthetics, design, psychology, and self-improvement. Lidwell is a consultant to big corporations and the course resembled an intensive workshop for corporate thought leaders as much as a college-level course in a particular science-grounded topic. Not as academic or scholarly as most I've taken, it was nonetheless interesting, novel, and thought-provoking.
Date published: 2019-04-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Understanding Color This is an excellent!! Lecture on color. I am throughly enjoying this DVD. The instructor is very precise in explaining the concept of color. I eagerly look forward to his lectures. I highly recommend this DVD for anyone in any business of learning about the color palette.
Date published: 2019-03-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from How Colors Affect You: What Science Reveals I have not completed the course, but I have noticed that colors are consciously being used in a lot of ways in our daily lives. Fantastic information!
Date published: 2019-03-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well delivered, really interesting content This was great. Lots of interesting facts about colors and the role they play in our personal and professional lives. Loved it!
Date published: 2018-10-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very interesting - not sure I agree with all of it We really enjoyed the presenter - easy to listen to and well spoken. The language and words for colors in the introductory lecture is fascinating. He obviously knows his research although I took exception to the lecture mentioning "judo uniforms" as being red or blue. The gi's are universally off white with colored belts that are earned. For competitions there would be a red sash or blue sash added around the middle but not the entire uniform. The lectures sure gave us a lot to discuss after watching them - one per day since there were only 6. If I was running for public office or pushing a new product I would certainly contact Professor Lidwell for advice. Fun presentations with graphics that expand on the studies. Well done. The constantly moving camera angles get annoy quickly. Not very restful to watch, hence the 4 stars.
Date published: 2018-09-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good, but too much Science. All good to know. it give me better understanding.
Date published: 2018-09-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging and enlightening Prof. Lidwell is energetic and engaging. The organization draws you in and the material presents material that was beyond my imagining. I have come away with new understanding and insight. I am considering changing my wardrobe.
Date published: 2018-08-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Sparse but interesting I expected more color theory examples with this course, but instead the presenter relies on a selection of studies where choices that people made for various colored items is deemed proof that the colors chosen are more or less favored. Although I thought the studies interesting, but I didn't find as many practical applications as I'd hoped to discover when I signed up for the course. The broad categories of color choices was also disappointing. What about the colors orange or purple? Overall, it kept my attention, but I'm glad I got it on sale.
Date published: 2018-07-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very detailed history This is a thorough history and proper presentation of the best research on the effects of colors. Especially valuable is the effect of blue light on sleep patterns and the health consequences. My only concern is the advertising applications that are applied to sell more junk food given too much legitimacy. I would like to see the tactics of using color to sell and cause overeating as something we should beware of because Coca-cola, for instance, is akin to tobacco as a public health menace.
Date published: 2018-07-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Power of Colors I never knew how much color can influence human behavior. Very informative and entertaining.
Date published: 2018-07-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Myth busting course! I wanted some solid information about color meanings for a presentation, and this course gave me exactly what I needed. Prof. Liddell has thoroughly reviewed the research. He describes the various experiments, talks about how researchers have approached variables, and gives both their conclusions and his own. I now understand how complex color meanings are and how wrong so much of common knowledge about color really is. For example, you will read everywhere online that the color red stimulates appetite, when in fact it promotes avoidance. This is a wonderful course for anyone who has a professional or personal interest in color.
Date published: 2018-04-23
Rated 1 out of 5 by from What Pseudo-Science Reveals The lecturer needs to brush up on both his history and his science: "your 30th greatgrand parent probably could not see blue." Not only does he misstate Gladstone's conclusion about Homer [pace the lecturer Gladstone did hold that there was a difference in the EYE], he also thinks that the perception of blue coincides with the development of blue as a color term. I am outraged that the Great Courses would allow such bunk!
Date published: 2018-04-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This "Colors" Course is Pure Gold This course, "How Colors Affect You: What Science Reveals," is an excellent concentration of research and scientific data to back up the psychological, physiological, and medical impacts of the colors on individuals- including some surprising "myth busters." Color is a critical component of the design elements I use professionally to enhance not only the function and atmosphere of interior commercial and residential spaces, but also to enhance and support indirectly the mental, emotional, and potential physical health outcomes of individuals of all ages who are affected by those interior spaces. I would only ask for two things in addition- a printed transcript booklet of the video for my continual reference to the studies, . . . as well as a follow up video exploring the color topic even further. Many, many thanks. This video was a great investment.
Date published: 2018-03-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Science of Color This is a little more academic than I was looking for in the instruction. I am remodeling my kitchen and am interested in the way colors affect people as I want to prepare it for eventual sale. This is helpful. I like the way each color is a presentation which makes it easier to focus on the information.
Date published: 2018-02-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from An Evidence Based Course Perhaps that is what made this course so short--as short as I have seen from The Great Courses, only a single DVD long with just six lectures. It stuck to the evidence, regarding the influence of colors and skipped the many theories (often mystical or pseudo-spiritual). It relied on actual studies of how people reacted, when presented with various things but using different color themes. This course seems most relevant in guiding anyone who might be involved in merchandising a product, whether that be making a banner, an advertisement, a storefront, a store interior, box cover, uniform designs, and so on. The lecturer did note that frequently there are different, context-dependent messages for the same color, which can add to the complexity of choosing the best scheme. To take a single example: red can be associated in some contexts as being sexually exciting and alluring, but in other contexts it clearly sends the message of danger (think of how we use red for stop lights and stop signs). You might hope your advertisement (or your attire) might subconsciously give a message of alluring excitement, but you definitely don't want to be screaming "Watch out--stay away!" Similarly green, the color of healthy plants, can have a soothing, health-promoting sort of message--but not as the color in a new brand of catsup, because related to foods not normally expected to be green, the immediate association is that it must be moldy and therefore spoiled. That's the sort of thing you'll hear about in this course. It's short, it's not hard to absorb, but I found it easiest to listen to just one lecture per day to avoid muddling the messages about different colors in my memory. It was worth the small investment in time to listen.
Date published: 2018-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Our whole family really enjoyed this, especially the story of Sir Isaac Newton, and the cultural/biological discussion about how people see colors. Very interesting!
Date published: 2018-01-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fun It was allot of fun to watch. I particularly enjoyed watching the sports competition segment and how color may influence the participants and the audience.
Date published: 2018-01-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Concise and informative I should have watched this as soon as I purchased it instead of letting it sit on the shelf for months. I learned so much. Thanks.
Date published: 2018-01-01
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Yawn... Very shallow course and narrow in scope. If you're going to a course on the psychology of color affect, it going to have to be a whole lot more in depth and width. D grade.
Date published: 2017-12-10
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The title is way more promising then the content I borrowed the title from the library as I am starting my second career in visual arts. The lecture is intelligent and a good public speaker, and bring in some interesting facts based on researches about colors. My subjective opinion - the lecture will work for more technically oriented visual art specialist, ex. interior designers, landscape designers but not for classic art oriented painters. May be abstract art fans will be happy but I personally was looking for a deeper look in to the color in fine arts and the intersections with psychology.
Date published: 2017-12-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A better title may be The Impact of Color I enjoyed this course! I am an interior designer and know about colors and how they affect people, what they "mean", how to use them, etc. so I resisted this course at first. . What could they teach me that I didn't know? But I was looking for a short course that I could finish while working on a small job and the reviews were weighted on the positive side, and the price was right, so I bought it. The title is accurate but the subject matter was, happily, not as I expected. In other words, I learned so much new and useful information not about how to use color for decorating but how to use color in assessing the impact of color in things we do and getting the responses we desire. I enjoyed the professor's presentation, which kept me interested and had some fun play along at home tests. If you are searching for a job, or work in HR, there are a couple of chapters you would find interesting.
Date published: 2017-11-30
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