Saturday, 5 December 2009

Assignment 4 - Part three

1500 word comparison 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."

“Though medical science may eschew the idea of color therapy for any direct biological action upon the human body, it does admit actions and influences in the realm of the psychic.” (Faber Birren, “Color Psychology and Color Therapy”, Pg 137.) For a greater understanding of the effects of colour on human emotional and psychological responses, I studied two of the well known Faber Birren - colour researcher's texts entitled “Color Psychology and Color Therapy: A Factual Study of the Influence of Color on Human Life” written in 1950 and Birren's “Color and Human Response” written in 1978. Birren devoted his life to colour, writing more than 20 books in his time on the subject. He explored the effects different colours have on human emotions, and even believed that certain colours could be used therapeutically on the mentally troubled. Several experiments involving colour therapy with diagrams are described at the beginning of “Color Psychology and Color Therapy”, including The Oxyhemograph: “This unusual device, attatched to the patient's ear, will react to the colour of human blood and provide a quick record of oxygen content.” (Courtesy, Dr. Roy D. McClure, Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit.) More interesting are his studies of mentally troubled patients. He states that manic patients prefer red, while hysterical patients are drawn towards green, “perhaps as an escape”. He found that Schizophrenics are sensitive to yellow and that the colour associated with paranoia is brown. (Courtesy, Hans Huber, Publishers, Berne, Switzerland, Dr. Lipot, Experimentelle Triebdiagnostik.) Sections which were of particular interest to me included Emotional Reactions, Neurotics and Psychotics, and the Biological Responses and it is these three which I have chosen to explore in more depth. I will look at how effectively Birren argues the effects of colour on these aspects of human life, and will also explore the different case studies Faber Birren describes to support his theories. Because there are twenty years between the two texts, I will also explore if his idologies and theories have expanded and matured.

Birren follows the work of physician Felix Deutsch in both texts. Birren writes, “His findings throw important light not only on medical practice with references to colour but on the whole psychology of colour.” (Pg 46, “Color and Human Response”). In the opening paragraphs of the Emotional Reactions section of Color Psychology and Color Therapy, Birren begins by explaining a fairly simple theory, which has been highly generalised. 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).

He follows this on with Deutsch's work, in the Neurotics and Psychotics section, and also the same examples are given in “Color and Human Response”. Deutsch points out, for example, that when treating pulmonary diseases like tuberculosis, light therapy has a real beneficial biological effect. The patient experiences, “sensations and psychic excitations, which, through the vegetatite, stimulate circulation, etc., and through these manifestations the physical influence of light upon the disease process is in turn enhanced.”(Pg. 152). Birren gives this same example in the “Color and Human Response” text, but with twenty more years experience and research, has developed his own theory to go along with Deutsch's. In “Color Psychology and Color Therapy”, he then goes on to describe how Deutsch found that colour influences a change in blood pressure, but that “it takes place in an indirect way”. He says how Deutsch, with the use of colour, has “treated patients whose conditions were of nervous origin or who had disturbances of the heart”(Pg. 153). He proved that if someone is exposed to warm colours, they actually become warmer, as they increase blood pressure, and in turn heat up the body. The same can be said in reverse for cool colours, as they decrease blood pressure, lowering the rate of the heart and causing a cooling feeling. Furthermore, in “Color and Human Response”, he expands on this idea by exploring which colours have beneficial therapeutic effects. To better understand this section of the book, we must refer to Birren's opening statement of the section on Emotional Response in “Color and Human Response”. Birren takes into account that “the studies presented and the results described are frankly subject to question and can be disrupted.” (Pg 43). By this he realises that although a fact is a fact, it may differ from person to person, making these “facts” subjective. He states that “the word “fact” is forever a troublesome one in relation to anything emotional.” If we understand this, then we can better understand the research he explores, and remember that it is not true to everyone. Deutsch discribes how “warm colours may calm one person and excite another. Cool colours may likewise be stimulating to one person and passive to another. Irradiation with red or green light may produce an elevation of blood pressure, or the opposite may occur.” (Pg 47). From this we must recognise the difficulty Birren is faced with to conclude the alternative effects each colour has on different situations.

To conclude his studies of the importance of colour when handling neurotic (ie (from the Greek νεύρωσις) refers to a class of functional mental disorder involving distress but not delusions or hallucinations) and psychotic (ie A serious mental disorder in which the mind does not function normally and the ability to deal with reality is impaired or lost.) illnesses, Deutsch summarizes in four points as follows in Birren's “Color Psychology and Color Therapy”;

1. Through feelings and emotions, colour can bring about a “reflex action upon the vascular system”. (Pg 156)
2. The effect achieved isn't the same for any two people or any hues. As previously stated, a warm colour such as red or orange, may calm one person yet excite the next, just as a cool colour like blue or green can stimulate some, and be passive to others.
3.Exposure to red or green light may highten blood pressure and cause a quickening of pulse rate. However the opposite may occur for people with a different psychic make-up.
4.“An organic, non-optical color sense has not been proved so far.” However, the response that follows exposure to color may have an organic effect.

Birren's research into the effects of colours on mental disorders and those suffering from neurotic and psychotic disorders was the most interesting part to me. He explores the experiments carried out by scientists and doctors with colour to “afford relief and to effect cures”. (Pg 158). One that he describes was exerted by a doctor known as Ponza in 1875, where he decorated several rooms with coloured glass windows, coloured furnishings and coloured walls, using mostly red and blue. 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.” (Pg 159). Birren states that modern (which was more than 50 years earlier than present) medicine no longer uses coloured rooms for their patients, as new drugs are more effective. He goes on to list the effect of different colours on these patients, before pointing out that the experiments were not entirely reliable as there is an“exclusion of daylight and a lack of proper attention to a colour scheme or colour effect that is “artistic” as well as “scientific”.

In conclusion, although both texts were fascinating, it was hard to compile a comparison of the two as they both shared mostly the same content. However the different case studies were interesting and well supported. His idiologies didn't vary greatly between the two texts, however in my opinion this further strengthened his arguments.Birren refered to many different sources, ranging from physicians to scientists and doctors, providing a wide variety of important insights. The more useful text was Birren's “Color Psychology and Color Therapy: A Factual Study of the Influence of Color on Human Life” in that the content of the case studies, I felt, was more detailed and easier to understand. I found the subject was absorbing, and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the different effects colours have on neurological and mental disorders, as the complexity of them is something I have always been interested in.


Birren, F. (1978) Color & Human Response: Aspects of Light and Color Bearing on the Reactions of Living Things and the Welfare of Human Beings. Wiley.

Birren, F. (1950) Color Psychology and Color Therapy: a factual study of the influence of color on Human life. Kessinger Publishing Co.

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