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Journal oj Applied Pzychology

\ O 1 41, No 5, 1957

Colors and Mood-Tones 1

David C. Murray and Herdis L. Deabler
Gulfporl Division, VA Center, BUoxi, Mississippi

Colors and mood-tones are frequently exactly, the subcultural) factor to see whether
thought to be associated. The assumption of socioeconomic level and mental health play
such association is basic to much of Rorschach a role in such findings, and to see what as-
interpretation, the interpretation of the chro- sociations are consistent despite variations in
matic HTP and other projective techniques. subculture, socioeconomic level, and mental
It plays a part, implicit or explicit, in ad- health.
vertising, packaging, designing, and other Procedure
areas of commerce and has an important
To obtain a cross-regiona! comparison with Wex-
bearing on psychological effects of colors se- ner's Purdue students, 25 Louisiana State University
lected for interior decoration of rooms for liv- students—18 males and 7 females—were tested. It
ing and working quarters. was assumed that age, intelligence, and socioeconomic
In a study on the relation between colors status would be fairly consistent between the stu-
dents of the two universities Since Wexner had
and mood-tones, Wexner (5) selected a list found no significant difterences between sexes for
of eleven mood-tones. Each mood-tone con- her Purdue group, results for the L S.U. students
sisted of two or more words which had been were also lumped together To determine whether
unanimously chosen by four judges as syn- socioeconomic status was a factor, the test was ad-
onymous. The mood-tones were: Exciting, ministered to 69 male nuising assistants at the Gulf-
port Division of the Biloxi VA Center, to provide a
stimulating; Secuic, comfortable; Distressed, comparison between relatively high and relatively
disturbed, upset, Tender, soothing; Protec- low socioeconomic groups within the South Al-
tive, dejending; Despondent, dejected, un- though no statistics are available, the average age of
happy, melancholy; Calm, peaceful, serene; the nursing assistants was probably somewhat greater
Dignified, stately; Cheerful, jovial, joyful; than that of the students, and the age range was
obviously greater Intelligence, which is probabh
Defiant, contrary, hostile; and Powerful, correlated to socioeconomic status, may be assumed
strong, masterful. (Each mood-tone will to be considerably higher for the students
hereafter be referred to by its initial word.) To determine whether findings were applicable to
The subjects, 94 Purdue students, half of neuropsjehiatric patients the test was also given to
108 unselected new male admissions to the Gulfport
whom were male and half female, were asked (neuropsychiatric) Division of the Biloxi VA Cen-
to select the one color from the colors on the ter The vast majority of these patients are of
charts that they felt best represented the feel- southern origin and a majority are of a socioeco-
ings described by the word groups. Colors nomic origin similar to that of the nursing assistants.
could be used more than once or not at all. Average intelligence of the patients may be some-
what higher than that of the nursing assistants, as
Eight colors, yellow, orange, red. purple, may average socioeconomic origin, but it is felt that
brown, blue, black, and green, were used. To the differences are probably not very great Thus
avoid color stereotypes, the names of the results for nursing assistants and patients provide a
colors were not mentioned. Results indicated comparison of two southern groups of roughly simi-
that for each mood-tone certain colors were lar socioeconomic origin.
The colors, mood-tones, instructions, and pro-
chosen to -'go with" that mood-tone signifi- cedure used were the same as for VVexner's group
cantly more often than the remaining colors. with two unavoidable exceptions Wexner put her
Wexner raised the question of cultural and colors, in the form of 8* X 11-in pieces of art paper,
on 30 X 40-in pieces of light-gray cardboard Due
biological determinants of these associations to the arrangements of the rooms where testing was
of mood-tones and colors. The present study to take place, it was necessary' in the present study-
is an attempt to explore the cultural (more to mount all eight pieces of art paper on one piece
of 28 X 44-in. cardboard in a 2 X 4 arrangement
1 Also, it was not possible to match precisely two of
An abbreviated version of the paper was pre-
sented at the 1956 convention of the American Psy- the colors used Both the red and the blue in the
chological Association, Chicago, Illinois. present study were slightly lighter than were Wex-
280 David C. Murray and Herdis L. Deabler

Table 1
Correlations Showing the Extent to Which Groups Agree in Selecting Various Colors as
"Going With" the Given Mood-Tones

Groups Compared*
Pat Pat Pat Att. Att. LSU All
Mood Ait LSU Pur LSU Pur. Pur Groups
Exciting 35 70 65 38 55 93 .66
Secure .96 .85 88 86 92 .84 .88
Distressed .94 .34 -.39 .47 -.25 .37 40
Tender .79 71 78 .79 85 .97 .84
Protective .66 .41 .35 .59 74 .66 65
Despondent SO 32 32 64 76 .81 .62
Calm 87 98 .72 94 .89 .80 .87
Dignified 54 54 59 .51 49 95 .68
Cheerful .95 58 .80 55 81 .89 78
Defiant 41 .26 .21 .84 55 .78 61
Powerful 83 48 .26 62 .60 .53 64

Key, Pat Neuropsychiatnc patients Att • Nursing assistants LSU. Louisiana State University students Pur Purdue
University students.
* Comparisons between pairs of groups are by rank-order coefficients of correlation (Rho), those between al! four groups at
once are by coefficients of concordance (W). Italicized Rho are significantly larger than chance, allowing a tratio of 3.0. Italicized
W arc significant beyond the .01 level

ner's colors. These differences, though probably of for which mood-tones did we have the closest
minor importance, should be kept in mind when intergroup relationships. An attempt was
comparing the results from the Purdue group with
results from the other three groups. made to answer this by rank-ordering the
All testing was done in groups of varying sizes, colors chosen by each group for a given mood-
the 25 L S.U. students at one time, the nursing as- tone and then obtaining rank-order correla-
sistants in five groups ranging from 4 to 21 at a
time, and the patients in thirteen groups of from 4 tions between each pair of groups. These are
to 12 at a time shown in Table 1.
As might be expected, the two university
groups show the largest number of significant
To gain an over-all view of the relation- correlations; the two southern groups, of
ships between the groups, and to see if they roughly similar socioeconomic status, show
did actually differ from one another, chi the next largest number. There is less simi-
squares were computed for each mood-tone. larity between the two southern "normal''
Colors were grouped into a miscellaneous groups of differing socioeconomic level, sug-
category to give expected frequencies of five gesting perhaps that socioeconomic level is a
or more For ten of the mood-tones p was more important factor to consider than either
smaller than .01, indicating that for these region of the country or level of mental health
mood-tones the groups did differ in their Table 1 also indicates that for three of the
choice of colors. For the mood-tone protec- mood-tones the correlations between all pairs
tive, p was greater than .05. In general, it of groups are significant. These mood-tones
appeared that for most ot the mood-tones, are Secure, Tender, and Calm. To determine
there were significant differences between the more clearly for which mood-tones there was
groups in their choice of colors to go with the the most agreement throughout all four
given mood-tone. groups, Kendall's (2) coefficient of concord-
This finding left unanswered the questions ance was determined for each mood-tone
of which groups agreed most closely in their All coefficients but one were significant at
choice of colors to go with mood-tones, and beyond the .01 level. As can be seen from
Colors and Mood-Tones 281

Table 2
The Percentage of Times Subjects Chose Each Color as "Going With" Each of the Eleven Mood Tones*

Purdue Students1- Patients Nursing Assistants L S U Students

1 Mood Tone













11 stimulating B

B Yellow-
B Black
i Secure, A Blue 44 A Green 31 A Green 45 A Blue 52
1$ comfortable B Brown 25 Blue 23 B Blue 26 B Green 20
Green 19 B Yellow 12 C Brow n 13 Brown 16

C Yellow- 9 Brow n 11 Yellow 9 Yellow 4

Distressed, A Orange 36 A Black 27 A Black 26 A Black 40

disturbed B Black 17 Blue 21 Red 25 B Brown 16
•i C Purple 11 li Red
s upset 14 Blue 25 Red 12
Brown 10 C Yellow 10 B Yellow 6 Purple 8
1| Tender, A Blue 44 A Blue 19 A Green 35 A Blue 44
soothing B Green 26 Green 19 Yellow 29 Green 40
1 C Yellow 12 Orange 17 B Blue 13 B Yellow- 8
Purple 10 Other 13 Other 10 Purple 4

A Red
A Green
A Red
A Blue
Blue 16 B Red 13 Brown 14 Red 16
Black 16 Yellow 12 Blue 14 Orange 12
£ l
M o save space only the four colors most frequentl> chosen as "going with' each of the eleven mood lune^ dre shown
g Data for the Purdue students are from Wexner (5) Her frequencies have been converted into percentages for comparative
•5: purposes.
'>£ Sig • Statistical significance The letters in this column indicate the results of a multiple comparison test of significance
-$which is briefly described in the text. Colors in the same letter category did not differ from each other (at the 05 level of con-
^fidence) in the frequency with which they were chosen to "go with" the given mood-tone Colors in the A category were chosen
3* siRmficantk more often as "going with" the given mood-tone than were colors in the B category Colors in tile B category were
'3chosen significantly more often as "going with" the mood-tone than colors in the C category, and those in the C category signin-
Jcantly more often than those in the D category

§ Table 1, this coefficient is highest for the the same letter category were associated with
;§three mood-tones, Secure, Tender, and Calm. mood-tone significantly more often than colors
||The coefficient is lowest for Distressed. in letter categories below them and signifi-
* To determine which colors were associated cantly less often than colors in letter cate-
almost often with a given mood-tone, results gories above them. Colors in the same letter
Ifor each group were transformed into per- category did not differ significantly from each
icentages, which were in turn transformed into other in frequency of association with mood-
jinverse sine scores (1). Tukey's (4) proce- tones.
dure for making multiple comparisons among Results (see Table 2) suggest that certain
a set of observed means was adapted to make colors do have a general affective meaning for
^multiple comparisons among a set of observed all groups, and also that one color may have
^frequencies in mutually exclusive categories much the same affective significance as an-
^(3) as was done by Wexner (5). A signifi- other. In the present study the latter conclu-
cance level of 5% was used in all cases. The sion is particularly true of blue and green.
Jesuits on the Purdue students were computed Both blue and green are rather consistently
by Wexner (5). As was done by Wexner, related to Secure, Tender, and Calm, and
colors were grouped according to the results rather consistently not related to Defiant.
of the multiple comparison tests. Colors in Red and black are the colors which are most
282 David C Murray and Herdis L. Deabler

Table 2—-Continued

Purdue Students'' Patients Nursing Assistants L.S U Students

c :
Mood Tone Sis': Color % Sig Color % Sig' Color % Sig< Color /c

Y' ,

Despondent, A Black 28 A Black 26 A Blue 43 A Black 48

dejected, Brown 28 Blue 22 B Black 22 B Purple 20 '
unhappj, B Purple 12 B Red 12 C Purple 9 Brown 20
melancholy Blue 12 Other 10 Brown 7 Yellow 4 '-

Calm, A Blue 40 A Green 23 A Green 46 A Green 48 '>

peaceful, Green 33 Blue 21 B Blue 14 Blue 32 ''•
serene B Yellow- 9 B Other 12 Yellow- 12 B Yellow 12 1
Purple 7 Yellow 11 Orange 12 Orange 4 %

Dignified, A Purple 48 A Brown 21 A Brown 23 A Purple 32 |

stately B Black 32 B Purple 17 B Purple 14 B Blue 24 ;
C Blue 10 Black 16 Red 13 Black 16 ,•
Brown 6 Blue 9 Yellow 12 Red
Cheerful, A Yellow 43 A Red 19 A Green 22 A Yellow
jo\ial, B Red 21 Green 19 Yellow 19 Red 32 ?
joyful C Orange 15 Yellow- 17 Red 19 B Orange 12
Green 12 Blue 12 Orange 17 Blue 8 *

Defiant, A Red 24 A Red 34 A Red 42 A Red 48 .-

contrary, Orange 22 B Black 19 Black 32 Black 28
hostile Black 19 Other 14 B Brow n 9 B Purple 8 i'
B Brow n 12 C Yellow 9 Other 6 Orange 4 ;:

Powerful, A Black 51 A Red 31 A Red 36 A Red 32 i

strong, B Red 24 B Green 14 B Brown 19 Brown 24
masterful C Purple 9 Brown 13 Black 16 Purple 20 '
Blue 6 Black 11 Blue 14 B Black 12

consistently associated to certain mood-tones orange as Distressed, and also as Defiant

by all groups. Red is generally seen as Ex- The other three groups made these two asso-
citing, Cheerful, Defiant, and Powerfid, and ciations very rarely. The two non-universih
is generally not related to Secure, Tender, groups were most likely to relate brown to
and Calm. Black is seen as Disliessed, De- Dignified, and the two university groups were
spondent, and Defiant, and is consistently not relatively unlikely to do this. The non-uni-
associated with Tender, Calm, and Cheerful. versity groups thought of green as a Cheerful
The major difference between red and black color, the university groups did not. Half of
is that red is seen as Cheerful, black is con- the Purdue students picked black as Powa-
sistently not chosen as Cheerful. }ul, and less than 15% of each of the other
Brown is Protective, but is not Exciting or groups made this association.
Cheerful. Purple is Dignified, but unlikely One question which arises is whether there
to be seen as Secure or Cheerful. Yellow is is a tendency for certain groups to choose
Cheerful, but rarely seen as Powerful. Orange certain colors, regardless of the mood-tone in-
is not closely related to anything, but is rarely volved. To answer this, a chi square was com-
related to Despondent, Dignified, or Powerful. puted between groups and colors. It was sig-
In addition to these general findings, cer- nificant at well beyond the .01 level. Two
tain instances where one or two groups showed findings stood out. One was that patients are
very strong associations between a color and particularly likely to associate colors that are
a mood-tone, and other groups did not, may not actually before them to the mood-tones -ar
be noted. Thus the Purdue students saw and to otherwise fail to follow directions
Colors and Mood-Tones 283

* Representative of some of the other answers Summary

1 they gave are: amber, gold, tan ivory, white,
Neuropsychiatric patients and nursing as-
a pale, and cream, and also such combination
sistants in a southern hospital and students
' responses as: "black-purple," "gole (sic)
in a southern state university were presented
3 brown," "blue and orange," "purple green
with eight stimulus colors and a list of eleven
$ i gray black gray," "deep blue blue black yel-
moods and asked to pick a color to go with
3 low trim," and "Cool, Comb (sic) and Col-
each of the moods Results were compared
I lected."
with those for students in a northern univer-
j I A second finding was that regardless of sity which have been previously published by
i; mood-tone, the Purdue students seemed to Wexner (5). For nine out of the eleven
choose orange, purple, and black far more mood-tones, chi squares revealed highly sig-
than did the other groups, and they chose nificant differences between the four groups
red and green far less. Both patients and in their over-all associations of colors and
aides chose purple far less than the other mood-tones. In general, socioeconomic dif-
groups. The aides chose green and blue far ferences appeared to be more important in
more than the other groups. causing differential choice of colors to go with
1 For all groups put together, orange and mood-tones than were either mental health
5 purple were the least frequently chosen colors differences or differences in geographical re-
% and red was by far the most frequently chosen gions within this country.
3 color. This last finding may of course be a Certain colors were found to have about
S function primarily of the particular mood- the same affective meaning for all groups.
Tj tones used. In other instances there were sharp group dif-
| Discussion ferences in the extent to which they associ-
J The present data strongly suggest that peo- ated a given color with a certain mood-tone
% pie do associate colors and mood-tones in It was found that certain groups seemed to
jf their minds. The range of these associations have a general response tendency to choose
§ suggests that such associations are far from certain colors, regardless of the mood-tone in-
% uniform from one person to the next. The volved.
3 fact that there are group differences in the Finally, there were some colors which ap-
^associations strongly suggests that the asso- peared to be relatively popular with all groups
-fciations are, at least in part, learned rather and some which appeared to be relatively un-
-sthan inborn. It would appear that in both popular with all groups.
2 the commercial world and in projective test- Received September 27, 1956.
Sing the particular subgroup involved must be
^considered. Present results suggest that socio- References
-economic differences are of particular impor- 1 Eiscnhart, C , Hastay, M W , & VValhs, W A
jtance. Techniques of statistical analysis. New York
It should be recognized that present re- McGraw-Hill, 1947
|sults apply only to one shade of each color. 2. Kendall, M G Rank correlation methods. Lon-
don Charles Griffin, 1948
1 Further research is needed to determine to 3. Nair, K. R The distribution of the extreme
/what extent results are specific to one shade deviate from the sample mean and its stu-
•of a color, and how far they can be general- dentized form Biometrika, 1948, 35. 118-144
ized to all shades of that color. Comparisons 4. Tukey, J W. Comparing individual means in the
^between more than two regions of the coun- analysis of variance Biometrics. 1949, 5, 99-
t r y and between more finely differentiated 5 Wexner, Lois B The degree to which colors
"socioeconomic groups would also be informa- (hues) are associated with mood-tones J
tive appl Psychol, 1954, 38, 432-435.