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How Colors Alter Mood and Spur Creativity

How Colors Alter Mood and Spur Creativity

Vicki Santillano | Divine Caroline

As a kid, I relished organizing M&Ms by color and eating the “best” ones first and relegating the “gross” tan-colored ones to the trash. To this day, I reach for yellow and red peanut M&Ms first, believing that they’re far superior to all other varieties without really understanding why. Then I read about a study that showed these colors to be appetite stimulants. Suddenly, my preference—and that rumor about green M&Ms being aphrodisiacs—didn’t seem so crazy.

Most of us recognize that certain colors inspire certain moods (which is why the colors we paint our rooms are so important), but few realize they can shape how we perform and think. They can even affect how things taste. Color psychologists study these kinds of influences on humans and while their findings aren’t all-inclusive—many personal factors, like cultural norms and experiences, shape a person’s perception of color—they have discovered that color can alter behavior in unexpected ways.


Yellow is an energetic color representing sunshine, vitality, and happiness. Researchers at a university in Amsterdam found that it was a mood lifter for many participants, though some believe a yellow room encourages aggression in people. It might also improve brain functions like memorization. In 2007, researchers in New York City worked with paint specialists to analyze how people behaved at cocktail parties hosted in yellow, red, and blue rooms. Those in the yellow room were more lively and boisterous compared to partiers in the other rooms and they ended up eating twice as much as anyone else.


Doctors and nurses wear white uniforms and hospital rooms are painted white because the color represents sterility for many people. Purity, innocence, light, and peace are common adjectives associated with the color white in our country. In China and Japan, it can symbolize mourning or death. Office walls are often white because it’s considered a neutral color, but it doesn’t always lead to the best work environment. A 1999 study showed that employees working in white-walled offices experienced nausea and headaches more than employees in red or blue workspaces.

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