How Do We Perceive Color?

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Posted by: Laura Mercurio Category: Color Tags: Comments: 0

How Do We Perceive Color?

Part 2: How do we perceive color?

Webster defines psychology as the science of the mind or mental states and processes. It is the science of human and animal behavior. Perception is defined as the act or faculty of apprehending by means of the senses or the mind. A single unified awareness derived from sensory processes while a stimulus is present. Perception can also be defined as cognition, the act or process of knowing or awareness. One can further explore the meaning of perception as the immediate or intuitive recognition or appreciation as of moral, psychological or aesthetic qualities. Perception can relate to insight or discernment. When we perceive we become aware of, know or identify by means of the senses. To perceive is to understand, discern or recognize.

Volumes have been written on how we perceive, respond to and experience color. Faber Birren, a renowned color authority, asserts there is a historical background, biological response, visual response, emotional response and psychic response to color.

Frank Mahnke, author of Color, Environment and Human Response and president of the International Association of Color Consultants/Designers describes the color experience in terms of a pyramid of “six interrelated and connected factors at work.” (Figure 2)

1. Biological reaction to stimulus- physiological beyond our control.

2. Collective unconscious from Jungian psychology- primal impressions called archetypes or the original pattern or model from which other things of the same kind are made. Fundamental images formed in our development as a species

3. Conscious symbolism- these symbols or universal associations made on a conscious level, are perhaps to a small extent “learned”: Green for nature; blue with sky and water; red with revolution and fire and so forth.

4. Cultural influences and mannerisms-like: flag colors, southwest color, in Islam green is a holy color.

5. Influence of trends, fashion, and style.

6. Personal relationship to color

Read the first installment of this special series, What is color?


For more information check out


Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, Random House New York 1991

Faber Birren Color and Human Response, New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1978

Frank Mahnke Color, Environment and Human Response, New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1996


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