By Andréa de Paiva
What is the color of the walls in your house? Or of your couch? What about your company's logo? Most of the times we attribute an aesthetic or cultural value to colors. What is your favorite color? And why do we still associate blue to boys and pink to girls? The effects of color in our brain go far beyond personal taste or cultural values. In today's article we will discuss some insights NeuroArchitecture has brought about this relevant subject.
First of all, it is important to understand that this field is much more complex than it seems. The impacts of choosing a color to decorate a room go beyond aesthetics and taste. This is why the findings in NeuroArchitecture are so important: finally we started to understand how the brain is affected by the colors surrounding us.
Color is a fundamental element of the natural environment in which our species emerged. The colors of plants, for instance, helped to identify if they were eatable. The color of the sky indicated if it was time to look for shelter from a storm before it started. Or the color red from blood could indicate the presence of a victim and, in consequence, of a predator nearby. Therefore, color identification is directly linked to our species' survival. This is why our organism evolved in a way to generate standardised responses to specific colors, inherited from the experience of our ancestors.
On the other hand, as soon as we started to live in societies with their own cultures, colors got new dimensions in our lives. Meaning was assigned to them: red is the color of love; black is the color of mourning. However, such meanings change from culture to culture. In many places red is associated with the communist ideology, for instance. Or in some oriental cultures, white is the mourning color.
Thus, we can divide the impacts of color in two great groups: those that were inherited and those that were learned . Scientists have been trying to understand these impacts for some time. Nowadays, NeuroArchitecture can contribute to this field.
A few decades ago, scientists researching with monkeys found out that the brain has a specific area for color processing. This area, known as the color center (or V4), is located at the occipital lobe, next to the other centers of vision in the brain .
However, with the fMRI , neuroscientists noticed that the color processing in the human brain is much more complex and involves several different areas. Besides, it is directly connected to areas responsible for emotion and memory processing.
In a study from 2002, a test was used to understand the influence of color in the visual memory of natural scenes. The participantes who were shown images in color had results from 5 to 10% better than those that were shown black and white images, independently of the time spent looking at it. However, such improvement happened only when the colors followed natural patterns (blue sky and green leaves, for instance). Therefore, the researchers concluded that the memory formation and recognition processes are linked to our ability to notice colors and light  .
Nevertheless, colors were so important in our evolution that its connection with memory goes even deeper. Another group of scientists found out that, when we look at images of know objects, our brain completes its color even when it is not there . This study was made with banana images. The participants knew and saw that the images they were presented to were black and white. But their brains acted as if they were seeing a banana as it is in real life: yellow. This means that their brains accessed the whole memory they had of bananas, including their color, even when the color was not there.
But how can architects apply such findings from NeuroArchitecture to use color in their projects? A good start is to take into consideration this strong bond between color and memory. Even in a completely artificial building (without biophilic elements), the use of color can help our brain to make automatic associations with nature. A floor colored beige like sand or green will activate more nature memories than a white or red floor. A wall painted in tones of blue, varying from dark on the top to light on the bottom will activate memories from the sky more than a wall painted in only one tone of blue.
The contributions from NeuroArchitecture to the use of color are not finished here. This is why we will soon be back to discuss other aspects regarding this field.
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 Gegenfurtner, K., Wichmann, F., Sharpe, L. (2002) The Contributions of Color to Recognition Memory for Natural Scenes. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 2002, Vol. 28, No. 3, 509–520
 Bannert, M., Bartels, A. (2013) Decoding the yellow of a gray banana. Curr Biol. 2013 Nov 18;23(22):2268-2272. Current Biology 23, 2268–2272, November 18, 2013 ª2013 Elsevier Ltd All rights reserved http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2013.09.016