Colour impacts us every day and is a fundamental part of our experience in the world around us. Just think of how many things you’ve seen today that were colourful and caught your eye for precisely that reason.
Did you choose a sunny yellow shirt because you woke up feeling happy and positive? Did you grab your pink striped umbrella on the way out the door so the rainy day wouldn’t get you down? How many bright red stop signs did you encounter on your commute?
But have you ever wondered how exactly you see these things? The visible spectrum (your typical rainbow hued array of coloured light) makes up only a small portion of the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Objects are different colours because they absorb some wavelengths of the visual light spectrum while other wavelengths bounce off.
When light enters our eyes it passes through the lenses and hits the retina. Our retina is at the back of the eyeball and is filled with many light sensitive cells called rods and cones. We actually have about 120 million rods in each eye and their principal function is to distinguish between light and dark. We have approximately 6 million cones in each retina and it is these cones that are most responsive to colour.
Most of us have three different types of cone and each is tuned to light of different wavelengths. Two-thirds of these cells are more sensitive to longer wavelengths which translates to the fact that we see more of the warm colours such as yellow, orange and red.
Regardless of the science behind it all we react to different colours in different ways. Each person reacts differently too and those reactions usually go back to old memories - good or bad. Take red for example. For some the vibrant colour might be a reminder of the roses received on a very special anniversary. For others, red could be a horrible memory of a devastating fire! Our daily colour choices in wardrobe, home decor and even products are based on these associations but rarely do we actually acknowledge how much colour influences us.