Red is the blood that runs through our veins, just as orange-red is the color of the flames. The color red is one of the most outstanding and quickly perceived in nature, distinguishing itself quickly and not being as frequent to observe as green or blue.

But it has always contained a deep symbolism, perhaps the most visceral of all the colors that exist. Beyond the symbolic, red also has a psychological meaning and can come to modulate our behavior. What does the color red mean according to psychology? We will see it throughout this article.

The color red: what is it?

Before starting to talk about what red symbolizes and means on a psychological level, it should be mentioned that color is not something intrinsic to objects or things but is the result of the act of perceiving. That is, we see red things because our eye captures certain wavelengths of light through a certain type of cones in our eye that our brain later interprets as that color.

In the specific case of red, the wavelengths that correspond to it are those between 654 nm and 700 nm , and in reality, within the consideration of red, a large number of shades are included depending on their level of mixing with other colours. It is one of the three primary colours, whose meaning on a psychological level is influenced by its association with perceived stimuli of that colour or of some of its mixtures with other colours, especially with orange.

Symbolism and meaning of the color red at the psychological level

As we said in the introduction, the colour red is one of the colours that has the most symbolism on a psychological and even religious level, because a series of concrete elements are perceived as being of that colour. Specifically, the strongest associations of the color red are with fire (although curiously the most common type of fire usually has an orange color) and with blood. By extension, it is also linked to heat, the sun, war and violence (in which blood is common).

It is a colour that, as in other cases , reflects both positive and negative aspects , although together with black and unlike the other colours it is often not seen well due to its relationship with violence.

From the psychology of colours, which studies the psychic effects of colour derived mainly from the social and cultural perception of these (symbolism) and its effect on the brain, we can highlight the following associations in the case of the colour red.

Among the most positive ones, red is associated with heat, passion and energy. It is also linked to affectivity, being in its positive pole also associated with love (although it usually has more connection with one of its derivatives, the pink), sensuality and sex. It has also been associated with prosperity and power , as well as force. It has also been associated with vitality and dynamism, good health, happiness and even extraversion.

It is also commonly associated with spontaneity and daring. In fact, psychologically it has been observed that this colour slightly stimulates more extraverted behaviour. It has also been observed that it is an activating colour for the human being and that it helps to generate movement and to act to achieve one’s goals. It is also related to success, independence and autonomy and even to life.

But its negative connotations, linked to blood, are probably much better known. In this sense, red has been related throughout history to violent behaviour, hate, aggressiveness, lack of control, emotional lability , excess and danger. Also with competitiveness (although this connotation can be good or bad depending on whether it is taken to the extreme or not). Sometimes it is linked to destruction, cruelty and death. It has been observed that the colour red is also linked to unthinking behaviour and a tendency to ignore risk. In fact, there is an urban legend that people with a car of this colour often have to pay more in insurance because of this association.

In short, we are before one of the colours in which the bipolarity of the symbolism of the colours is most clearly seen, associating itself with aspects as valued as love up to concepts considered to be totally opposite, such as hate in this case. It is the colour of intensity and the visceral, associated with a powerful and extreme emotionality and contributing in fact to generate an intense emotional response.

Use of this colour in different areas

All of the above aspects are not merely anecdotal or aesthetic, affecting and being taken into account in practice within very diverse areas. For example, the colour red is not usual in health centres beyond its symbol, due to its relationship with blood and pain . It is also often avoided in places where silence and reflection are required, such as libraries. It is also not recommended for people who are already very excitable in themselves.

However, it is common to use it to paint houses where you want to generate dynamism and activity. It is common to use it on clothes to express closeness, activity or strength, although on the contrary it can also be counterproductive if we are in situations such as job interviews, since it is linked to lack of control, little commitment and little capacity for reflection. Likewise, it is common in the case of women to use it in dresses or lipsticks as an element of distinction and sensuality .

In the world of marketing, its link to power and activity often causes various brands to use it with products. It has also been seen that it stimulates action, thoughtless behaviour and consumerism, being used to improve the probability of purchase. It is also often used in products aimed at a young and vital public. It has also been observed that it is a colour that tends to stimulate hunger and intake, making it common in food brands. Finally, it is usually used to indicate danger due to its high showiness , usually mixed with black or yellow.

What about other cultures and times?

We have seen the meaning attributed to the color red on a general level, but the truth is that in different regions of the world the symbolism of that color can vary to a different extent.

For example, in China is seen as a colour of good luck and long life , being commonly used in celebrations to attract them. In India it is also associated with marriage, fertility, purity and power. It is usually used in weddings, being a color associated with the clothes of the goddess Lakshmi (goddess of good luck, beauty and wealth). In South Africa it is used as the color of mourning.

Historically, in cultures and societies that have always lived in conditions of intense cold, the color red is mostly a symbol of positivity and life, due to its link with heat . Among them we can highlight Russia.

In contrast, in cultures where heat is a cause of suffering or even death, it can be seen as a negative symbol. In particular, in ancient Egypt, red was considered to be the symbol of evil and destruction, although it could also symbolize life and regeneration.

In the Europe of the Middle Ages it had a double reading; on the one hand, red was related to evil and guilt (many redheaded women were accused of being witches and burned at the stake), while on the other hand the color of blood symbolized Jesus Christ and the idea of sacrifice and redemption. In fact, this is why the Pope’s clothes were red and today the cardinals wear this colour. It also ended up being associated with the feminine, an association that is still in force today.