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 In this text, Birren focuses mainly on the incluences colour has on life, “supported by historical references and the latest scientific data.”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.