Feeling Gray? Colors May Match Moods

Study Shows Depressed People Have a Preference for Gray; Happy People Pick Yellow

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on February 09, 2010
From the WebMD Archives

Feb. 9, 2010 -- Depressed people prefer dull colors like gray over brighter hues, British researchers find.

Does mood really affect color preference? To find out, Peter Whorwell, MD, PhD, of University Hospital South Manchester and colleagues created what they call the "Manchester Color Wheel."

"Colors are frequently used to describe emotions, such as being 'green with envy' or 'in the blues,'" Whorwell says in a news release. "Although there is a large, often anecdotal, literature on color preferences and the relationship of color to mood and emotion, there has been relatively little serious research on the subject."

The color wheel included a variety of colors and shades of black, white, gray, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, brown and pink.

The researchers showed it to more than 300 healthy people, considered neither anxious nor depressed, and about 220 they rated as depressed or anxious.

The researchers asked participants which color they felt most drawn to, their favorite color, and whether any of the colors reflected their current mood.


Most people in both groups chose yellow as the color they were most drawn to, the researcher write. And most in both groups also chose blue as their favorite color.

People in the groups differed sharply, however, when asked to pick a hue that reflected their mood. Healthy participants selected a shade of yellow, but depressed ones, for the most part, chose gray.

According to the researchers, the color gray implies "a dark state of mind, a colorless and monotonous life, gloom, misery or a disinterest in life." Yellow, on the other hand, is linked to "happiness, cheerfulness and a positive emotional state."

The researchers say the color wheel could be useful "in a variety of clinical situations" in diagnosing and treating people who suffer from depression. It also may prove useful, they write, in situations in which verbal communication might be difficult, such as with children.

They say the color wheel could be used to detect some disorders in children and help people with communication problems or those for whom English is not their first language.

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News release, BioMed Central.

Carruthers, H. BMC Medical ResearchMethodology.

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