Friday, January 2, 2009


My research into color-perception has culminated in some practical suggestions for trial lawyers, but it applies to those of us in retail, marketing, or, in fact, folks who want to understand more about how we all see "differently:"

Red is the first color to disappear from a child’s crayon box and the last color emitted by a dying star. It is the color of fire, blood, roses for lovers, and the ruby slippers that returned Dorothy to the warmth of home.
Recio (1996) Red

“Sans le Rouge rien ne va plus.”
Advertising slogan with a strong visual subtext, appearing under a picture in which Little Red Riding Hood’s scarlet cloak has been bleached white.
(The wolf walks away, disinterested.)

Excerpted from the book, PRACTICAL JURY DYNAMICS2 (2007)

The Influence of Color Perception.

While color affects every aspect of our lives today, it is one of the most under-attended to factors in trial. Color surrounds us, clothes us, affects our food choices, and warns us of dangers. We rely upon color at traffic intersections, we use color to tell us which substances are poison, and we buy products based upon the color-appeal they have, both consciously and unconsciously. Since color is a persuasion tool, but its perception is biologically based, it is worth considering as we explore a juror’s brain.

Notwithstanding the vital communication role of color, lawyers generally have only a vague awareness of what color is, how it is perceived, and what the physiological and socialized reactions of a juror are to colors in the courtroom. What an attorney, a witness, or a client wears will include choices of color; charts, tables, and power point presentations are full of color choices; information about a juror’s mood and culture can be embedded in the colors the juror chooses. In a practical sense, what is important to know about color?

• Color is actually an illusion, since the world is completely colorless. Color is a small part of the electromagnetic spectrum band that connects all things, each color only differing by vibrations and wave length. The appearance of color is the result of an interactive visual process and exists only in the observer’s brain. The sensation of color depends solely on the brain’s interpretation of signals coming from the eyes.
• Color experience and color interpretation of each person are light dependent. Lighting conditions will change the colors witnesses see and remember. Color constantly changes because light constantly changes (which might explain witness confusions about color).
• Jurors, like all of us, are color conditioned. This is a subtle effect, but it produces color biases, based upon what we were taught as children and within our original cultures. A strong color-bias is related to food; add a little blue food coloring to potatoes and it becomes inedible to most people, while adding red coloring to tofu produces the opposite effect. One of the strongest Western biases is the consistent use of white to design good and black to designate evil. (Courtroom clothing choices ought to take into account cultural and regional color taboos and biases, because they may influence jurors subliminally.)
• Color not only affects our eyes but has the ability to penetrate our bodies, with a marked effect on biological systems. Certain light waves are needed for Vitamin D (ultraviolet radiation) and some people are photosensitive, breaking out in rashes in sunlight. In one intriguing experiment, men were found to loose physical strength when looking at the color pink. In one famous color experiment, the commander of the Santa Clara County Jail in San Jose, California painted one of the holding cells pink. Detainees (15 to a cell) were described as humorous and restful in the pink room. The study was much publicized until someone was inadvertently left in a pink cell for four hours and went berserk (consistent, however, with animal studies). It turns out that the soothing pink effect only lasts about thirty minutes (enough, perhaps to calm young children who need time outs).
• Color has persuasive power and helps sell products. Color is considered part of the message in advertising and advertisers have invested heavily in color studies. Red symbolizes eroticism or power, lilac is used to portray sentimental sensuality, and pink to express tenderness and motherly love. When the product marketer wants people to feel important or prestigious, violet, golden yellow, or black may be used. Since consumers are exposed to thousands of advertising messages, for a product to be noticed, color is essential. Orange and red draw the most attention. Colors seem to trick a consumer’s perceptions. When consumers were asked to judge the quality of coffee in four colors of containers (red, blue, brown, yellow), 75% reported the coffee from the brown container was too strong, 85% found the coffee in the red container to be rich and full-bodied, and the coffee in the blue container was ranked too mild, with the yellow too weak. All containers held the same coffee, so this is a robust finding. When women were asked to test identical face creams, they consistently ranked the pink cream milder and kinder to sensitive skins, as well as more efficient than the white cream. One of the most startling studies pre-tested laundry detergent packages. The same detergent, but different colored packages: women ranked the yellow package as too strong (claiming it even destroyed some clothing), the blue package not strong enough to get things clean, but the third box, blue and yellow, was considered marvelous (hence, the number of laundry detergents using these colors). Yellow signified strength for customers and blue gentleness; together, they were just right.
• Color can enhance the perceived characteristics of a product or object. It is a well-known marketing fact that people buy psychological and social satisfaction, rather than products. We have a lot to learn from these findings. Avoiding triggering unwanted negative reactions may be the primary lesson. We can accomplish this by reading more and paying attention.
• People have idiosyncratic emotional memories associated with some colors, which they are usually aware of and can describe.
• In 1995 in a landmark decision, the Supreme Court deemed color such a potent brand identifier that a particular shade alone could serve as a legally defensible trademark.

A summary of findings on general color associations in mainstream United States follows, to encourage reading more rather than end the search, since there are shading and hue differences that are important:

Red Strength, vivacity, virility, dynamism, warmth, fortifying. Associated with blood and fire, love and courage, lust, murder, rage, and joy. A significant color in every culture.

Orange Radiation, communication, action, generosity, fire burning in the hearth. Often the color that is loved or hated.

Yellow Most luminous of all colors, first noticed, loudest, brightest. So readily seen that yellow cars are involved in fewer accidents than cars of any other color.

Green Growth, hope, quiet color with a sunny character. Negatively associated with queasiness and poisoning; extraterrestrials are often portrayed as green, so it is connected with supernatural. When asked to create something creepy, children select green or purple.

Blue Relaxation, most favored color in Western culture, inner spiritual life, dreamlike quality. Brings in sky and sea, therefore infinity, serenity. Blue ribbons are first place winners. The favorite color of American men.

Violet Meditative, mystical, mysterious, dignity. Sensuality, decadence, sorrow. The shortest wavelength of the spectrum with the highest energy level.

Gray Symbolic of indecision and inertia, associated with monotony and depression.

White Lightness, truce, healing, coolness, moonlight, medical profession, cleanliness. The best selling paint.

The colors a person chooses to wear are probably the product of two things: color conditioning and self-image. The colors jurors wear can give you a lot of information about them, if you consider more than one court day. We are socialized to believe we look better in certain colors and that we should not wear others. The variety of colors a juror does (or does not) wear, the comparison of one juror’s colors with those of the other jurors, or the color connections between jurors (color-cliquing, particularly women who may be socialized to notice such things) can be useful information.

Color-busyness can be distracting to jurors, as they try to make sense of both color, content, and underlying meaning of evidence. While we tend to prepare charts, for example, based on colors we like, studies indicate that the most-remembered/retained information was on yellow-black or black-yellow charts (that is, the lettering was one color, the background the other). State license plates were once frequently in these two colors as it was considered that police could read them best. (On that same note, yellow cars get more tickets than other colors.) The brain’s capacity to store or lose information is, in fact, our next consideration.


  1. Fantastic and educational! I know why we are hooked on J Crew- people want to buy psychological and social satisfaction.:)
    Funny, how in everyday life we do not have time anymore to stop and think things through. Please, keep posting -I have tremendously enjoyed reading your post.

  2. So facinating! I'm going to share this post w/ my hubby who is a trial attorney. Thanks for the read!