Thursday, 24 March 2011

Dissertation Proposal Part 2

Student Name
Suzanne Plunkett
Course Jewellery and Metalwork Design
Supervisor name Dr Sandra Wilson
Email address
Date 12/03/11


Exploring the benefits of colour in relation to neurological disorders.
- How can this be applied to Jewellery Design?

(18 words)


By researching colour psychology, colour therapy and gemstone therapy, it is my aim to explore how these alternative methods can be used to aid the treatment of human illnesses, both physical and mental. With the use of secondary research in the form, for example, of American writer Faber Birren’s life long devotion of research into Colour psychology, the explorat
ion of ancient and modern Gemstone therapy and using a series of methods including observation, focus groups and larger participatory workshops, I plan to explore the benefits of h
olistic treatments, how colour affects us in our day to day lives and how colour and gemmology can be used in a positive way to treat such illnesses as depression, schizophrenia, insomnia etc, including various physical health issues. By visiting the Dundee Association for Mental Health, with their permission I hope to observe a number of sessions in which patien
ts are being treated with colour therapy to help relieve stress, depression, headaches, fear and anxiety. As I am particularly interested in schizophrenia and treatments for it, I also plan to get in touch with the neurology department of the university in order to find out more, first hand, on how colour affects the brain and the body.

(An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan taken of identical twin brothers, unaffected twin (a), and affected twin (b). Showing the loss of brain tissue in affected twin.)

For my dissertation it will be necessary to use a combination of quantitive and qualitive research methods, as although a large portion of my topic is based around science, looking at how the brain reacts to colour, the rest will be aimed at gathering a deeper understanding of human behaviour and human psychology.

Colour preferences can tell us a great deal about a person’s personality. Birren states that if a person prefers warmer colours such as hues of red and oranges, they are likely to me more aware of their social environment. He labels these as “warm colour dominant subjects.” On the other hand, those preferring cooler colours such as blues and greens, are categorized generally as “cold colour dominant subjects” and are recognised as finding it challenging to adapt themselves to new environments and situations”(Pg138). By splitting people into separate categories, based on their colour preferences, Birren finds himself able to establish a greater understanding of their personalities and characteristics. As well as teaching us about an individual’s personality, colour can also be used as a tool when dealing with the mentally ill. Courtesy of the work by Hans Huber, it was proven that patients suffering manic tendencies preferred the colour red, a symbol of blood and anger. Hysterical patients were more sensitive to green, “perhaps as an escape”, the colour linked to paranoid subjects was found to be brown and schizophrenics are sensitive to yellow.

Persons suffering from neurological disorders are known as having nervous (neurotic) and mental(psychotic) disturbances, and are far more likely to be affected by colour than those who do not suffer from such illnesses. A non sufferer will become less sensitive to colours as they reach adolescence and onwards, where as the reactions from suffering patients is almost childlike and shows extreme sensitivity. This is shown in an experiment carried out by a doctor known as Ponza in 1875 where red and blue was used to decorate several rooms, with coloured glass windows, coloured furnishings and coloured walls. After studying a man stricken with taciturn delirium in the red room, he became noticably happy and cheerful. The same was done to a man who previously refused food, and he was found to ask for breakfast the next morning. As for blue, “A violent case who had to be kept in a strait jacket was shut in the room with the blue window, and less than an hour afterwards he had become calmer.”

Throughout the ages, colour has been considered to be one of the greatest healers, particularly the sun and it’s seven colours dispersed through the sun’s rays. Ancient Indian scripture such as the Surya Kiran Chikitsa, praise the sun’s ability to heal ailments and the discovery that each colour possesses it’s own specific and unique vibration. Colour therapy, or “Chromotherapy”, is an ancient practise that has, in more recent times, resurfaced and made a noticeable upsurge, as holistic medicine has become increasingly popular. Chromotherapy involves the use of colour and light “to balance energy wherever our bodies are lacking, be it physical, emotional, spiritual or mental.” It is stated that the ancients would build grand halls specifically for colour healing, where light would filter through coloured glass panels onto the individual being treated.

The Vedic religion is an ancient predecessor of modern day Hinduism, and such Vedic texts as the “Brihat Samhita”, discusses the benefits of gemstone therapy, the healing abilities of numerous gems and their specific origins. Gem therapy, like colour therapy, also dates back to historic ages, but can still be applied today to provide treatment to human ailments. As alternative treatments such as crystal healing, is becoming increasingly popular, I will be careful to view the practice from all perspectives. Although people have claimed to experience beneficial effects of the healing powers of gemstones and crystals, there is no actual scientific proof to back this up and could theoretically be a result of the placebo effect. Occasionally believers who want the healing powers of stones to be true, they will only see things that back up this belief, an example of cognitive bias. I will explain in detail the differences between gemstone therapy and colour therapy, and go into depth how colour therapy has scientific evidence showing positive results for aiding neurological disorders.

(943 words)


It is my aim to get as involved as possible with neurology students, colour therapists, and patients alike. I want my research to be focused mainly on primary research, through observation, participation, workshops, focus groups and to also follow the work of colour psychologists such as Faber Birren, Angela Wright and JD Keehn. I want my dissertation to be aimed at a wider academic audience than jewellers, and would like my research to benefit students both interested in Neurology and Art, to somehow, whether how small, bridge the gap between science and art in some form.

(96 words)


In my dissertation, I plan to have four main sections. I will explore in detail, the history of colour psychology and colour therapy in section one. I will then look at gemstone therapy and gemmology, both ancient and modern. My third section should include how chromology and gemmology can be applied in more detail to aid the treatment of mental and physical health in humans. In my final section, it is my aim to apply what I have learned to my jewellery and metalwork design, and how I can incorporate my knowledge into my discipline and create designs around these ideologies.

(101 words)

Key Words


(10 words)

Annotated Bibliography

Azeemi, S & Raza, S (2005) A Critical Analysis of Chromotherapy and Its Scientific Evolution. Oxford University Press.

A useful article describing the evolution of Chromotherapy, including detailed descriptions of the healing characteristics of specific colours. Develops new ideas involving the scientific field of “electromagnetic radiation/energy” and how this can be applied to ancient colour theories.

Amber, R. (1983) Colour Therapy: Healing with Colour. Aurora Press.

Describes how colour effects our environment, including our clothes, food and light “sensitising us to the healing power or the destructive effects of a guided use of colour therapy.” One of the few texts I found that gave a more balanced view on Colour Therapy, highlighting the benefits and disadvantages.

Babbitt, E.D. (1967) Principles of Light and Color: The Classic Study of the Healing. University Books.

Edited by American writer Faber Birren, a text detailing Edwin Babbitt's invention of the chromo lens, a lens made of pure crystal grade of glass, of three different colours, "the blue of a character greatly superior to the mazarine blue in its exclusively soothing and electrical effects; the yellow-orange or amber-colored; and the transparent. In his list of remarkable things about his chromo lens which is hollow, he writes: “When water is placed within and charged by the sunlight the substance becomes medicated with an exquisite principle which is more gentle, enduring and far reaching in its effect than ordinary drugs.” A dose would consist of from one or two teaspoonfuls to as many tablespoonfuls as needed. He installed colored glass windows in his offices and had patients take colored sunbaths."

Bakhru, K. (2007) History of Colour Therapy. [online]
Available at:
[accessed 26 November 2010]

Provides detailed history into Colour Therapy, and its revival in the 20th century. Gives information about beliefs from the Middle Ages, and India’s enthusiasm towards colour therapy.

Bernard, G (2002) Gems: The World’s Greatest Treasures and their Stories. Prestel.

Chapter “The Garden of Health” was most interesting, describing mostly the colour Red, hematites and bloodstones and how in the 1400s these were believed to prevent nosebleeds, and were associated with the circulatory system as when polished, they turn water red. Short extract.

Birren, F. (1984) Color & Human Response: Aspects of Light and Color Bearing on the Reactions of Living Things and the Welfare of Human Beings. Wiley.

By far the most useful and relevant text I have come across, providing detailed information on each colour and its associations with specific neurological disorders. Shows the link between colours and their effects on the human brain. Easily to comprehend, illustrated, detailed.

Birren, F. (1979) Color Psychology and Color Therapy: a Factual study of the Influence of color on Human Life. Kessinger Publishing Co.

Again, another useful text from Birren. Involved more in how humans react to different colours physiologically, psychologically and visually, rather than how to aid human ailments. Factual and hypothetical, also discusses how to use colour in your day to day life, at work, home, in schools, to their most advantageous effects.

Cappa, S.F. (2001) Cognitive Neurology: An Introduction. Imperial College Press

A look into the developing Cognitive Neurology, a branch of both psychology and neuroscience, overlapping disciplines such as physiological psychology, cognitive psychology and neuropsychology.

Colour Yourself Healthy (2010)
Available at:
[accessed 10 March 2011]

Site states that with a combination of coloured waters taken at different times of day over a few months, that patients suffering from schizophrenia were found to have reduced symptoms. Not scientifically proven, but touches on the holistic side of treatment.

Dickey, C.C, Frumin, M, McCarley R.W, Shenton, M.E. (2001) A Review of MRI findings in Schizophrenia. Clinical Neuroscience Division, Laboratory of Neuroscience, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Brockton, MA 02301, USA.
Available at:
[accessed 10 March 2011]

A journal describing how the neuropathology of schizophrenia remains unknown. An indepth look into the effect of schizophrenia on the brain, lists a number of statistical results, and has references to a number of important scientists in relation to our developing understanding of schizophrenia.

Dundee Association for Mental Health
Available at:
[accessed 5 March 2011]

A voluntary organisation situated in Dundee, dealing with those suffering from mental health issues, including dementia, depression, schizophrenia etc. Practices colour therapy.

Giorgio, L. (2001) Colour therapy - Chromotherapy [online]
Available at:
[accessed 9 March 2011]

A look into the effects of colour on the body and soul, giving an in-depth description of each colour and its meanings/effects. For example, Leonardo da Vinci once stated that you can increase the power of meditation ten-fold if you practise under purple light, and that white light raises the vibration of one's consciousness and the body.

Herrington, R.N. (1969) Current Problems in Neuropsychiatry. Schizphrenia, Epilepsy, the Temporal Lobe. Headley Brothers Ltd.
Avalailable at:;jsessionid=4C24D25E36E77AC707029ECD16BF48AD.tomcat1?fromPage=online&aid=5206412
[accessed 10 March 2011]

Hirsch, S.R. and Weinberger, D.R (2003) Schizophrenia. Wiley-Blackwell.

A text detailing the causes, symptoms and affects of schizophrenia. Describes physical and psychological/behavioural/social treatments. Some chapters include the psychoanalytical therapies, and the roles of families of schizophrenics. Helpful in providing a greater understanding of the illness before I can begin to understand how colour affects it.

Keehn, J.D. (2006) A Factual Study of Tests of Color-Form Attitudes. Published online.
Available at:
[accessed 10 March 2011]

An assessment of personality based on ones reaction to colour or form. Specific tests include that from the work of Kulpe, Lindberg, and pays particular attention to the Rorchach Text by Vernon.

Keehn, J.D and Sabbagh, A. (1956) Colour-Form Response as a Function of Mental Disorder. American University of Beirut.
Available at:
[accessed 10 March 2011]

Abstract explains that schizophrenics and other abnormal groups respond to colour in a more significant way than those unaffected by neurological disorders. An expermient carried out using a series of colour-form tests.

Koenig, H G. (1998) Handbook of Religion and Mental Health. Academic Press, San Diego, CA.

Describes how religion relates to mental health and how it can influence care for mental health patients. Not fully relevant, but with regards to my research into Hinduism and their appreciation of colour and the benefits it provides, it gave me an insight into how religion can seriously alter/affect the different treatments of neurological disorders.

Life Positive (1999) Colour Therapy: Colour Conscious. [online]
Available at:
[accessed 1 December 2010]

Short article about the ancient practise of colour therapy and its connection to the Sun. Talks about the ancient Indian scripture; Surya Kiran Chikitsa, and how it speaks of the healing powers of the sun. Also describes the healing rooms in ancient Egypt, where the sun “dispersed the seven colours of the rainbow.”

Lilly, S. (2010) The Practical book of Colour Therapy. Southwater.

Explores how our lives are influenced by colour and that through a greater understanding of which colours stimulate us personally, we can use them to “promote balance and wellbeing”. Central themes include; Using colour as a healing tool, and how colour can be manipulated to improve meditation and vizualisation.

Marneros, A. and Pillmann, F. (2009) Acute and Transient Psychoses. Cambridge University Press.

A comprehensive overview of the biology, clinical features and long-term outcome of brief and acute psychoses. A review on the world literature on the topic.

Saksena, R. (2010) Health Seminars and Health Talks [online videos]
Available at:
[accessed 1 December 2010]

Video seminars conducted by Dr R. K. Saksena, about Colour Therapy for Chronic Illnesses. He discusses Surya Kiran Chikitsa, (mentioned above) on a number of human ailments, both physical and mental including insomnia, depression, asthma, fatigue, polio etc.

Shah, A. (2002) Colour Therapy. [online]
Available at:
[accessed 26 November 2010]

A website created by the Anwar Shah Trust got Cerebral Palsy and Paralysis. Provides diagrams relating to colour therapy, including a colour wheel annotating the relationship between colour and personality.

Szadmin (2005) MRI for early diagnosis of schizophrenia.
Available at:
[accessed on 9 March 2011]

A blog-like post detailing the use of MRI scans in detecting schizophrenia and how using MRI scans on patients with a family history of schizophrenia could provide earlier diagnosis and therefore more successful treatment.

The Ayurveda Encyclopedia (1999) Gem Therapy: Healing Powers. [online]
Available at:
[accessed 1 December 2010]

Gives a detailed list of the different effects of various gems, and mentions the “ancient Vedic texts”, which once I had researched further, discovered that the Vedic religion is an ancient predecessor of modern day Hinduism. Would like to explore this in more depth.

Viagrande, C. (2010) Physical evidence of Mental Illness. Published online.
Available at:
[accessed 10 March 2011]

MRI scan images of patients suffering from schizophrenia. Has comparison images of twins, one affected by schizophrenia and one unaffected showing the loss in brain tissue in affected twin.

Wills, P. (1993) Colour Therapy: The Use of Colour for Health and Healing (Health Essentials) Element Books.

Describes the best way to use colour in your surroundings, in your clothes and how to improve your health. Basic text, but has some quotes that may be useful.

Wood, B. (1984) The Healing Power of Colour. The Aquarian Press, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire.

A book describing how colour can be used to calm the disturbed, heal diseased tissues, and how none of us can be indifferent to colour, as it affects us all in one way or another.

(27 sources)

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Personality Test

The personality Vark's test gave four learning styles, concluded after answering a series of questions. Out of Activist, Reflector, Theorist or Pragmatist, my results were as follows:

Activist : Weak
Reflector : Very Strong
Theorist : Low
Pragmatist : Low

I wasn't overly surprised at my results, as I feel I do spend the majority of my projects focused on researching my topic, I'm not one to jump into new briefs, working methodically and grasping the background of my topic before moving forward has been working for me so far, however I would like to practise an Activist's approach more in my work.

When we met with our group to discuss our outcomes, although we hadn't had a chance to get to know each other yet, I had guessed a few of the outcomes correctly, and it was helpful in showing us who would be most appropriate for each aspect of the enterprise project.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Sunday, 5 December 2010

500 word summary on Faber Birren's "Colour and Human Response"

500 words on Faber Birren’s “Colour and Human Response”

Another text that I studied last year in Design Studies, Faber Birren’s “Colour and Human Response”, though smaller in content than his Colour Psychology and Colour Therapy, it still proved to be a very useful resource. I chose to revisit these texts as they have proven to be the most indepth studies of my dissertation topic that I have found to date. In this text, Birren focuses mainly on the incluences colour has on life, “supported by historical references and the latest scientific data.” He touches on how colour effects humans, plants, insects, birds, fish and animals, providing a greater understanding of the versatile powers of colour on life. He gives thorough descriptions of the use of colour in relation the The Ancient Gods, how colour affects different cultures, and the significance of the Planets and the Stars.

Birren divides the text into 9 main sections, of which Emotional Response, Biological Response, Historical Background, and To Heal The Body were of greater interest to me. In the Biological Response chapter, Birren states that “the stimulation of red and other warm colours tend to increase blood pressure, pulse, respiration.” He notes that there is also an increase in brain activity and skin response, concluding that the subject’s attention “is directed outward toward the environment.” To counteract this statement, he shows that to physically and psychologically relax the body and mind, green and blue are effective and can cause the rate of functions in the body to lower, “with less distraction from the environment”. (Pg 66 & 67)

Whereas earlier in the text, Birren reviews the ancient traditions related to colour along with the mythology and superstitions that co-exist, the chapter To Heal The Body specifically deals with “the art of healing, both old and new”. Sub-chapter “The Fabulous Edwin D. Birren” shows that Birren appreciates American “magnetist and psycho physician” Edwin D. Babbitt, but does not “subscribe to his theories” developed throughout the 1800s. He states that Babbitt “formed an interlude if not an interruption to the progress of enlightened medical and surgical practice. Babbitt stands as one of the most singular men in the story of Colour Therapy.” (Pg 88) In relation to colour therapy, Babbitt wrote: “Red light, like red drugs, is the warning element of sunlight, with an especially rousing effect upon the blood and to some extent upon the nerves, especially as strained through some grades of red glass which will admit not only the red but the yellow rays, thus prove valuable in paralysis and other dormant and chronic conditions.”

The content of this text was more difficult to understand, and I found myself trying to decipher where Birren agreed and when he was making a point of arguing with the theories and ideologies he described. However, there are the four chapters in the text that I believe will be useful come dissertation time.

500 word summary on Faber Birren's "Colour Psychology and Colour Therapy"

500 words on Faber Birren’s “Colour Psychology and Colour Therapy: A Factual Study of the Influence of Colour on Human Life.”

American writer, Faber Birren (1990-88), has devoted his life to colour and it’s effects on human life. After writing around 25 texts on the topic, it would be safe to say his work is considered highly amoung colour experts and psychologists around the world. Birren’s work has a strong focus on linking how humans perceive colours to how it makes them react. He writes, “Good smelling colours are pink, lilac, orchid, cool green, aqua blue.” In his text Colour Psychology and Colour Therapy, Birren explores the work of several physicians, scientists and doctors, mainly the German psychoanalyst and physician Felix Deutsch. “His findings throw important light not only on medical practice with references to colour but on the whole psychology of colour.” (Pg 46, “Colour and Human Response”).

Faber Birren states that if a person prefers warmer colours such as hues of red and oranges, they are likely to me more aware of their social environment. He labels these as “warm colour dominant subjects.” On the other hand, those preferring cooler colours such as blues and greens, are categorized generally as “cold colour dominant subjects” and are recognised as finding it challenging to adapt themselves to new environments and situations”(Pg138). By splitting people into separate categories, based on their colour preferences, Birren finds himself able to establish a greater understanding of their personalities and characteristics. One experiment Birren explores in his text, courtesy of Kurt Goldstein, involves a subject standing before a black wall with his eyes shut and arms outstretched to touch the wall in front. When the subject is influenced by a warm colour such as the colour red, his arms deviate away from each other, whereas when under the influence of a cooler colour such as green or blue, even though the reaction is a subtle one, the subject will move his arms closer together. I find this experiment, simple as it is, to be fascinating in highlighting the strong effects colours have on our minds and bodies.

As well as distinguishing the differences in peoples’ character through his use of colour psychology, Birren also touches on the effects colours can have on the mentally ill, in this text. This section was the most interesting and involved a series of complex experiments such as discovering which neurological disorders were linked to which colours. Courtesy of the work by Hans Huber, it was proven that patients suffering manic tendencies preferred the colour red, a symbol of blood and anger. Hysterical patients were more sensitive to green, “perhaps as an escape”, the colour linked to paranoid subjects was found to be brown and schizophrenics are sensitive to yellow.

Birren states that persons troubled with “nervous (neurotic) and mental(psychotic) disturbances are greatly affected by colour and are responsive to it”. Therefore colour becomes much more significant to them, and affects them in a completely different way than those without such neurological disturbances. Chapter 12 Neurotics and Psychotics is the most compelling in the text as it relates to my dissertation topic. After struggling to find texts specific to my research subject, this text and its contents came as a welcomed discovery and I will be referring to Birren’s work throughout my further research.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Wiki Entry Design Studies

What is Ethnography?

"We are all watchers - of television, of clocks, of traffic - but few of us are observers. Everyone is looking; not many are seeing." Peter M. Leschak.

Ethnography is a stem of anthropology, and in some cases sociology, dealing with human cultures and their scientific descriptions. It is a form of "data collection" involving a number of various methods, including studies of ethnic groups and their formations, studies into their resettlement, group structures and social, spiritual and material welfare and culture. Data collection is a term used to help make decisions about important issues, to pass the information collected onto others and to ultimately develop a wider understanding about a specific topic. Ethnographers use methods such as participant observation, questionnaires and interviews for data collection. Data collection usually takes place early on in an improvement project, and is often formalised through a data collection plan which often contains the following activity.

  1. Pre collection activity – Agree goals, target data, definitions, methods
  2. Collection – data collection
  3. Present Findings – usually involves some form of sorting analysis and/or presentation.

The aim of ethnography is to explore different cultures through writing, observing, analysing and learning. By exploring the different aspects of a specific group in great detail, we can gain a wider understanding of the world in which we live, and when combined with design, we have the opportunity to improve quality of life for a vast amount of people. Norwegian ethnographer, Thor Heyerdahl once said, "One learns more from listening than speaking. And both the wind and the people who continue to live close to nature still have much to tell us which we cannot hear within university walls. ", capturing perfectly the importance of exploration, observation and how necessary it is for us to develop new techniques to learn as much as we can about the world's diverse cultures and groups.

Thor Heyerdahl (October 6, 1914, Larvik, Norway – April 18, 2002, Colla Micheri, Italy)

A Brief History of Ethnography

Ethnography was first recognised and defined in the early 1900s by Bronisław Kasper Malinowski's fieldwork among Trobriand Islanders in 1914. Malinowski was born in Krakow, Poland in 1884 and is widely considered to be one of the most influential anthropologists of the 20th century. "He was the first to use participant observation to generate specific anthropological knowledge." Malinowski was the first anthropologist to distinguish the methodology of fieldwork. He adopted the use of charts, tables, interviews and observed everday actions to understand different societies and ethnic groups. "Through the acquisition of an outstanding education and many years of fieldwork, he became a very influential British anthropologist and the founder of Functionalism." Functionalism is a broad perspective in sociology and anthropology with the intention of portraying society as a "structure with interrelated parts. Functionalism addresses society as a whole in terms of the function of its constituent elements; namely norms, customs, traditions and institutions."

"There are no peoples however primitive without religion and magic. Nor are there, it must be added at once, any savage races lacking in either the scientific attitude, or in science, though this lack has been frequently attributed to them." Malinowski (1954)

Malinowski's study of the Trobriant Islanders of New Guinea in the southwest Pacific was his first field study and the beginning of the development of Ethnography. As is common in Ethnography, Malinowski approached his studies of the native's behaviour with a "holistic approach". Ethnography approaches are "holistic" in that they are "founded on the idea that humans are best understood in the fullest possible context, including: the place where they live, the improvements they've made to that place, how they are making a living and providing food, housing, energy and water for themselves, what their marriage customs are, what language(s) they speak and so on." He examined social interactions such as the annual Kula Ring Exchange, which he found involved "magic, religion, kinship and trade". Malinowski is also well known for discovering evidence that "discredits Sigmund Freud's theory of the Oedipus Complex in the lives of the Trobianders, by providing that individual psychology depends on cultural context." He states that "the functional view of culture lays down the principle that in every type of civilization, every custom, material object, idea and belief fulfills some vital function, has some task to accomplish, represents an indispensable part with a working whole" (Kardiner 1961).

Ethnography in relation to Design

"What people say is not what they do." Ethnography and Design are closely linked in that by delving deeper into all aspects of human culture, design can reveal a wider understanding of people and how we make sense of the world. Good design can help connect, inspire, entertain and provoke. As designers, we use some form of ethnography in everything we design. Designers show an understanding of the relationship between "what they produce and the meaning their product has for others." We have to examine and observe people in their own environments in order to successfully design for them. "A designer should care about ethnography because it can help produce more compelling, innovative design that really connects with users - in a way that creates delight." Darrel Rhea. Designing can be improved by paying more attention to whom we are designing for, by gaining a true understanding of the target audience, and by considering the environment and habitat in which they live. How can we expect to design for a world we know nothing about?


Kardiner and Preble, (1961) They Studied Man Establishing a data collection plan.

Malinowski, B, (1954), Magic, Science and Religion

Malinowski, B, (1915) The Trobriand Island

Malinowski, B, (1922) The Scientific Theory of Culture

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Design Studies Essay (part 1 and 2)

In last semester's assignment 4, I wrote a comparative essay on two of Faber Birren's texts, “Color Psychology and Color Therapy: A Factual Study of the Influence of Color on Human Life” and “Color and Human Response”. I used secondary research to look into detail the effects colours can have on the treatment of mental disorders, such as schizophrenia and depression. I looked at a number of experiments carried out by scientists and physicians, including the work of physician Felix Deutsch. However, in this assignment it is my intention to explore colour psychology and therapy using potential primary research. I will explain in depth, a number of ways I would carry out experiments that would help deepen my knowledge of the benefits of therapeutic colour therapy. Because I am not a neuroscience student or studying any biological sciences, my research will be purely theoretical, using the methods we have been taught this semester. I then intend to use everything I learn to help me look at one of my Jewellery and Metalwork design briefs in a different light. I recently proof read a 10,000 word dissertation for my sister on Vanishing White Matter Disease (VWM). Although not directly linked to my topic, it was very beneficial for me to aknowledge the way my sister wrote her dissertation, using a combination of both primary and secondary research. I feel it will aid me in this assignment by providing me with the tools needed to complete it.

Using the knowledge I have gained in my first essay, and considering the secondary research I gathered through Birren's texts, I have now come up with three experiements, which if put into practise, I believe the results would be beneficial in widening our understanding of the advantageous effects of colour therapy in therapeutic treatment of mental disorders. Colour therapy and other hypnotherapeutical practises are often considered non beneficial by some, but I think the next three hypothetical experiments will help prove that colour therapy can infact aid the treatment of mental disorders.

The first experiment I would carry out would be a functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. A structural MRI takes photographs of cross sections of the brain to detect masses such as tumours whereas a functional MRI measures the changes in blood flow in relation to neural activity. Functional MRIs allow for doctors to observe the changes in a patient's brain when exposed to different images and sounds. I would present a patient suffering from a mental disorder with a series of different coloured lights and hues, measuring the changes in their brain activity to each. If each colour caused the neural activity to react in different ways then this would begin to show that colours do infact have some effect on the brain. If I could identify which colours effect which parts of the brain, and compare these to the sections of the brain that are damaged from certain mental disorders, I could use these specific colours to see what change they make to the patient. If, for example, red and yellow light up the same area of the brain affected by schizophrenia, perhaps different hues of these colours could result in some form of beneficial treatment. I would also carry out the same experiment on someone with a healthy brain, to make sure that the colours used where specific to each mental disorder.

The second experiment would involve another functional MRI scan, but this time instead of presenting the different colours to the patient, I would instead ask them purely to think of the colour I chose. This would help me to see if even the thought of a colour can have any kind of effect on the brain. If this was the case, then eventually a structured form of meditation could be developed to help therapeutically treat the patient in question.

My third and final experiment would involve investigating the difference between medication and colour therapy. To show this I would start a group of patients suffering from depression on medication such as the anti-depressant citalopram, and start another group of patients also suffering from depression on colour therapy. By this stage if experients one and two had proven successful, I would know which colours to expose the patients to. By recording the effects of both treatments, it would be possible to see which has a more beneficial effect on the treatment of depression if any at all. This ties in with the idea of the “placebo” effect, which has shown to have advantageous effects on patients, if they are unaware that they are on the placebo rather than the treatment. When the brain releases endorphins, it has been shown that suffering patients do infact begin recovering. (Lourdes, France). Perhaps if endorphins are released as a result of exposure to different colours, patients could be treated in this way, rather than having to take medication.

In Birren's text Color Psychology and Color Therapy, he generalises a theory about colours in relation to personality. He states that people preferring warm colours “warm colour dominant subjects”, are more in touch with their social environment. They are more likely to be characterized by warm feelings, and in the “subject-object relationship, the emphasis is on the object.” (Pg 138). He then argues that people preferring cold colours, such as blue and green, calling these people “cold colour dominant subjects”, find it difficult to adapt to new environments and situations, and are “inwardly integrated.” He states that cold colour dominant subjects are less able to express themselves compared with warm colour dominants. Emotionally the cold colour dominant subject is rather reserved and in the “subject-object relationship, the emphasis is on the subject.” (Pg 138). A less scientific experiment I would carry out would involve interviewing the public to see what colours they choose to surround themselves with and why, what their favourite colours are and how this reflects their personalities. With the knowledge I gained in semester one about colour psychology, asking people their favourite colours can theoretically tell us a lot about what kind of person they are.

For the second part of this assignment, it is my intention to use the tools I have gained this semester and apply them to one of my previous jewellery design briefs, to hopefully work out a way to improve my designs and give me some fresh ideas. The brief I have chosen to look at in more detail is the Catwalk project, where I based my designs around the colours and patterns of Indian culture. I researched the different traditions of India including the art of henna in weddings and birthdays. It was my aim to produce a number of bracelets and arm cuffs to “adorn the body in an individual and unusual way”. I asked a girl from my class to model my pieces, and I was really pleased with the outcome of the photographs, and the exhibition we had for the project was a success. The henna particularly interested me, so after looking at a number of different couture designers, I began designing my own henna patterns and scanned them onto the computer. By printing the designs onto a special type of acetate called Print 'n' Peel, I was able to transfer them onto sheets of copper and brass and place in the etching bath. With my etched metal, I formed 3 arm cuffs, one lined with fabric, another textured with a hammer, and the third with a flocked surface. The rest of my designs involved binding wire around strips of different colours and lengths of fabrics to produce 30 chunky bracelets to be worn all the way up the arms. My final designs appealed to me personally, but I believe to have improved my designs, it would have been useful to do some primary research, similar to what I've gained this semester, to discover what it is that the majority of the public would like. By doing this, eventually my designs would hopefully appeal to a wider audience, thus making me a more successful designer.

If I could rewind and begin this project again, I think it would have been very beneficial for my designing to carry out a number of interviews with a variety of people, focusing on females. I would base my interviews on what people thought of when I asked them to describe India. I would ask them what colours they associate with the country, what patterns, textiles, smells, shapes etc. The interviews I would carry out would be structured without being too rigid, giving the respondent a chance to present more of their own thoughts rather than being pushed into giving generic answers. The age group I would interview would be females between the ages of 13 and 30.

Another method, arguably more effective than the previous, would be to chose some images related to india, or jewellery and ask a group of people to either describe or write a short story about the images. From doing this experiment earlier in the semester, it showed me that when people wrote the short stories about 4 images I had chosen at random, the words they used, and the creativity of their stories showed me a great deal about their personalities. Applying this along with what I have learned about colour psychology, I believe that I would be able to create a range of designs suited specifically for that person after carrying out these two experiments.

Going around the shops and observing what women buy who fit into this category would also have been helpful in aiding my research. High street shops such as Topshop, Accessorize, and Monsoon sell jewellery to a large audience, and the styles of their products all have a certain similarity. By seeing what is popular and sought after, I could base my designs around a certain style that I know would sell. However I would want the outcome to be original, showing my own personality through my pieces, and for them to be more individual than the latest high street fashion.

Even though not applicable to this project, another method of primary research that could be useful would be to make a mock piece and ask a few members of the public to wear it for a day to see how comfortable it is to wear and how durable it would be. This doesn't really apply to this project as the cuffs were really made to be worn as a one off. The fabric bracelets may have benefited from this though, as they could be worn as everyday accessories.

Because I used a lot of fabric for my bracelets, I think it would be advantageous for me to ask a range of people which they prefered. I had a number of different fabrics with varied textures, colours and finishes. The people that I did ask, almost all prefered the blue and green chunkier bracelets. This surprised me as I had planned to stick to warmer colours such as reds, oranges and yellows, but added some extra colours at the last minute. Looking back I wish I'd asked for other people's opinions sooner, as it would have helped me gain a new direction in my designing. It would have also been interesting to ask people to help me design my own fabric, making each fabric design individual to the customer, and therefore more appealing.

Through both of these short essays I hope to have drawn some conclusions to both my interest in Colour Psychology and my evaluation of the Catwalk Project. From the tools and skills I have gained this semester in both Design studies and in the jewellery and metalwork design course, including the ability to carry out primary research, I feel I can now apply them to future projects. For my next project, Sustainability, I think it will be very useful to incorporate these tools into my research, providing me with a more substancial volume of knowledge to base my designs on.


Birren, F. (1984) Color & Human Response: Aspects of Light and Color Bearing on the Reactions of Living Things and the Welfare of Human Beings. Wiley.

Birren, F. (1979) Color Psychology and Color Therapy: a factual study of the influence of color on Human life. Kessinger Publishing Co.