Color Psychology: Child Behavior And Learning Through Colors

Child building tower with colorful toy blocks and learning about colors

Color is a part of the electromagnetic spectrum. It is an energy having wavelength and frequency. Color affects the mood in adults and more so in children. Color psychology and its impact on a child’s learning abilities and behavior is a much researched subject.

Color psychology: Child learning patterns

Color can help connect the neuropathways in the brain. When correct color is found for a person’s problem subject, then that subject actually becomes a lot easier for the child; the student actually experiences joy of learning. Children wearing colored goggles who were made to complete pegboard tests were found to solve the tests much faster when wearing goggles of their favorite color.

A study conducted in 1993 by Boyatzis & Varghese followed by subsequent studies in 2001 and 2003 showed relationship between color preferences and student’s performance.Color has 3 basic attributes: hue, value and saturation. Color is also classified based on its temperature. Human eyes on the other hand have rods and cones that help differentiate different colors. When color passes through the retinal cells in the eyes, the receptor cells absorb the hues and send a signal to the brain where the colors are deciphered. These brain impulses also fall on the hormone regulating endocrine glands which then evoke emotional and psychological responses. (Nielson and Taylor study of 2007).

Scientific studies have now shown that students with learning disabilities and ADHD often experience distorted color discrimination. Therefore, many institutional situations require a calming environment. In the University of Alberta, the color environment of 14 severely handicapped and behaviorally challenged 8 year old kids was altered dramatically. From a white fluorescent lit classroom with orange carpets and orange, yellow and white walls and shelves, it was changed to full spectrum fluorescent lighting and brown and blue walls and shelves. The children’s aggressive behavior decreased and they also showed notable drop in blood pressure. When the environment was changed again to the way it was, the aggressive behavior and blood pressure changed to previous levels.

Color and physical reactions in children

Children also react to colors on a physical level. The explanation behind this is that the light enters the Hypothalamus which controls the nerve centers, as well as the heart rate and respiration. The wavelength and energy of each color varies and affects children differently. Even newborns react to light, a fact highlighted by infant jaundice being treated with blue light.

Color brings about a vascular reflex action by increasing perspiration, the eye blinking rate and also stimulating a noticeable muscular reaction. Blue color, as shown by above experiment, reduces the blood pressure. Reactions to orange, red and yellow are same and reaction to violet color is same as that to blue. The reactions to temperature of the color are another matter; warm colors can calm one child but they may excite others. Likewise cool colors might stimulate one and relax another.

One shade of pink can be calming, another can be stimulating. Blue violet may be a mystical and spiritual color, but to some groups of college students, Blue violet induced feelings of fatigue and sadness. These students also found a shade called “cool green” as angering and confusing.

How the different colors impact learning

Let us now study how different colors can impact learning and memory in kids.

  • Blue– Blue enhances creativity and stimulates a cool and relaxing environment. It should not be used in excess as it can also depress or invoke feelings of sorrow.
  • Red– Red is the color of passion and strong feelings of threat, love, or excess stimulus. In school rooms it can be used in combination with other colors as it can help in detail oriented or repetitive tasks.
  • Yellow– This is indeed the color of happiness and sunshine for children. Yellow stimulates intelligence and is ideal for use in kids’ rooms, study rooms and play areas. It should not be overdone as it can make children feel stressed.
  • Green– The color of abundance can relax and contribute to better health in kids.
  • Pink– This is a calming color. It can lower heart rate.
  • Purple– This color ideal for kids as it is attention grabbing.
  • Orange– Many educational institutes use this color as it enhances critical thinking and memory. Test rooms in this color are known to enhance performance in exams.

Guidelines for educational institutes

Here are some guidelines from Frank H. Mahnke from his book Color, Environment and Human Response for choosing colors based on age of kids especially for Academic environments

  • Pre-school and elementary school– Warm and bright color schemes are ideal.
  • Upper grade and secondary– Cool colors are recommended to enhance concentration
  • Hallways– Wide range of colors can be sued to impart distinctive personality.
  • Libraries– These do well with cool green or pale/light green for enhancing quietness and concentration.

In conclusion

Children, like adults, are very aware of color. Color psychologists have linked color with brain development, decreased absenteeism, enhanced productivity and even transition from childhood to adulthood. Naturally, one needs to take a more academic and research oriented approach in the aspect of color psychology in children rather than simply providing colorful environments through decoration, school signs and paint availability.

So, what is the best age for kids to learn about colors?