Humans receive about 70-80% of information about their surroundings from sight. Baring this in mind, it is clear that for humans, being able to see the environment in which we live can greatly determine how we interact with that environment. For people (as well as for other animals, although not all), color is an important component of sight. Socially, color is extremely important. For example, red, green, and yellow are all used in directing traffic. Stoplights and signs are red; a green light indicates that it is safe to proceed. Yellow symbolizes the need for caution, orange alerts drivers to construction. While all these signs could be executed in black and white (for the written messages would be the same), color is used to help drivers tell the difference between types of messages. Color usage in society is not limited to driving; advertising, school buildings, offices, etc. use color theory. Color theory is the idea that colors can influence people, and that different colors produce different reactions. A lot of people would agree that different colors mean different things or cause different moods, but cannot say exactly why or how. The answers are fuzzy to say the least.
One of the most widespread ideas is that different colors stand for or signify different things. However, one must keep in mind a basic fact; it being that "colors often have different symbolic meanings in different cultures. For example, white is the color for weddings in western societies but for funerals in traditional Chinese culture; red is associated with rage in America but with happiness in China. In American fashion and decoration, blue is for boys while pink is for girls, which is a symbolic use of color that are not shared by many cultures" (6). After saying something like that, the next question would be: does this mean that colors and the moods/reactions that they may (or may not) elicit are culturally constrained, or is there still some underlying biological reason for moods/reactions to alter due to color? A site on the server for Cornell University notes, "some of these responses seem to be powerful and fairly universal" (5). It is interesting to then look at the idea of chromotherapy; the use of colored light to heal. In a paper by Owen Demers he writes, "This [chromotherapy] is not a new age idea. On page 32 in his book The Power of Color, Dr. Morton Walker states that '...The ancient Egyptians, for example, built temples for the sick that were bedecked with color and light. They set aside special colored rooms as sanctuaries where the sick could be bathed in lights of deep blue, violet, and pink. Native American Indians also used color for healing ... to fight chronic illness and to heal injuries sustained during buffalo hunts and intertribal warfare' "(7). This being said and combining it with the fact that people still turn to color therapy today, leads me to believe that there may be actual, physical and emotional reactions of human beings to color (in the form of light and/or pigment). How is it that the body could respond to color in the form of light? While plants responding to light are not unusual (since they have the chloroplasts to do so), one does not normally think of people drawing energy from light, or having light change something about a person. According to William G. Cooper, "president of the Cooper Foundation, (a nonprofit educational organization offering natural methods of healing to the public), in The Power of Color(p.xiii), 'Light is a nutrient and, like food, is necessary for optimum health. Research demonstrates that the full spectrum of daylight is needed to stimulate our endocrine systems properly.' "(7). Whether or not this is actually the case, I am not sure; nor did I find any evidence pointing either way.
Color associations are also an occurrence that would point to the idea that color is more than just something pretty to observe. Color associations link mental or emotional