It seems clear and obvious that color should be able to evoke different emotions in humans. For example, the color “Red” evokes feelings like Rage, Aggression, or Love (Passion). Or the color “Blue” can evoke Sadness, Optimism, or Trust. The first major published work on the association between color and emotion was Goethe with his book Theory of Colors.

However, it is less obvious whether this association between a color and emotion is culture specific or universal, e.g., does Red evoke the same emotions in East Asia as it does in Western Culture. The most comprehensive effort I have seen so far is from Information is Beautiful.

The different meanings of colors in various cultures

The different meanings of colors in various cultures

While comprehensive, the graphic above is very complex. It is difficult to see the relationships between different cultures and colors. To make this visualization easier, I created a 2 x 2 matrix that compares and contrasts these relationships.

Comparison of emotional meaning of different colors in various cultures

Comparison of emotional meaning of different colors in various cultures

In the matrix above, the Y-axis represents the different colors from Warm colors such as Red, Yellow and Orange to the Neutral (or Achromatic) colors White, Gray and Black to the Cool colors Blue, Purple and Green. The X-axis represents Culture, spanning East Asia (China and Japan) to Western Culture (USA and Europe).

Some differences jump out by using this approach. In East Asia, the Warm colors of Red, Orange and Yellow are associated with Happiness, Optimism, Joy and Love. Whereas in Western Culture, these Warm colors are associated with Love (Passion), Alarm, Rage, and Aggression.

In East Asia, the Cooler colors of Blue, Green and Purple are associated with Harmony (Calm) or Hope. However, in Western Culture, these Cooler colors are associated with emotions like Happiness, Optimism, Trust, Love, Pride.

Finally, the Neutral colors of White, Gray and Black broadly evoke emotions like Sadness, Remorse, Grief and Submission, Purity, etc. This is true even though a specific color such as White may represent Purity in Western culture, and Loss in Eastern cultures.

The conclusion from this matrix is that there isn’t a universal mapping of color to emotion that spans all human cultures. Because of these differences, the VoxHumans app does not ascribe a color for each emotion, e.g., Red representing Optimism, or Blue representing Trust.