Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 193–215

Color preference, arousal, and the theory of psychological reversals

  • Jean Walters
  • Michael J. Apter
  • Sven Svebak
Article

Abstract

The theory of psychological reversals asserts that there are two levels of preferred felt arousal, one high and one low. Only one of them is preferred at a given time, although discrete switches (“reversals”) occur from time to time, so that each level is preferred at different times. In order to document such changes in preferred levels of arousal, 75 subjects were asked to make color preference choices at regular intervals during their working day, some for as many as 8 days. The assumption was that different colors are arousing or relaxing, and that color choice indicates arousal preference. The typical patterns of color choices that occurred clearly displayed the expected reversal effect over time and were considerably more consistent with reversal theory than with optimal arousal theory. In a second study, 41 new subjects were asked to respond to a simple mood adjective checklist each time they made their color preference choices. The results strongly supported the association between arousal preference and color preference and also supported the reversal theory thesis that low arousal preference is associated with seriousness and planning orientation (all these characterizing the “telic state”), and that high arousal preference is associated with playfulness and spontaneity (all these characterizing the “paratelic state”). Finally, both studies showed that there is a systematic tendency for long-wavelength colors to induce feelings of high arousal and for short-wavelength colors to induce feelings of low arousal.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Apter, M. J. Some data inconsistent with the optimal arousal theory of motivation.Perceptual and Motor Skills 1976,43 1209–1210.Google Scholar
  2. Apter, M. J. Human action and the theory of psychological reversals. In G. Underwood & R. Stevens (Eds.),Aspects of consciousness (Vol. I). London: Academic Press, 1979.Google Scholar
  3. Apter, M. J. On the concept of bistability.International Journal of General Systems 1981,6 225–232.Google Scholar
  4. Apter, M. J.The experience of motivation: The theory of psychological reversals. London and New York: Academic Press, 1982.Google Scholar
  5. Apter, M. J. Fawlty Towers: A reversal theory analysis of a popular television comedy series.Journal of Popular Culture, in press.Google Scholar
  6. Apter, M. J., & Smith, K. C. P. Humour and the theory of psychological reversals. In A. J. Chapman & H. C. Foot (Eds.),It's a funny thing, humour. Proceedings of the International Conference on Humour and Laughter. Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1977.Google Scholar
  7. Apter, M. J., & Smith, K. C. P. Sexual dysfunction—Depression, anxiety and the reversal theory.British Journal of Sexual Medicine 1978, Part I,5(38), 23–24; Part II,5(39), 25–26.Google Scholar
  8. Apter, M. J., & Smith, K. C. P. Sexual behavior and the theory of psychological reversals. In M. Cook & G. Wilson (Eds.),Love and attraction. An international conference. Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1979. (a)Google Scholar
  9. Apter, M. J., & Smith, K. C. P. Psychological reversals: Some new perspectives on the family and family communication.Family Therapy 1979,6 2, 89–100. (b)Google Scholar
  10. Fiske, D. W., & Maddi, S. R.Functions of varied experience. Homewood, Illinois: Dorsey, 1961.Google Scholar
  11. Fontana, D. Obsessionality and reversal theory.British Journal of Clinical Psychology 1981,20 299–300.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Gerard, R.Differential effects of colored lights on psychophysiological functions. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles, 1957.Google Scholar
  13. Gerard, R. Color and emotional arousal.American Psychologist, July 13, 1958, 340. (Abstract)Google Scholar
  14. Goldstein, K.The organism. New York: American Book, 1939.Google Scholar
  15. Goldstein, K. Some experimental observations concerning the influence of colors on the functions of the organism.Occupational Therapy 1942,21 147–151.Google Scholar
  16. Goldstein, K., & Rosenthal, O. Zum Problem der Wirkung der Farben auf den Organismus.Schweizer ARchiv fuer Neurologie und Psychiatrie 1930,26 3–26.Google Scholar
  17. Hebb, D. O. Drives and the C.N.S. (conceptual nervous system).Psychological Review 1955,62 243–254.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Hebb, D. O., & Thompson, W. R. The social significance of animal studies. In G. Lindzey (Ed.),Handbook of social psychology. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley, 1954.Google Scholar
  19. Kirk, R. E.Experimental design: Procedures for the behavioral sciences. Belmont: Brooks-Cole, 1968.Google Scholar
  20. Luscher, M.The Luscher color test. New York: Random House, 1965.Google Scholar
  21. Munsell, A. H.Munsell book of color: Glossy finish collection. New York: A Munsell Color Product, Kollmorgen Corporation, 1966.Google Scholar
  22. Murgatroyd, S. Reversal theory: A new perspective on crisis counselling.British Journal of Guidance and Counselling 1981,9(2), 180–193.Google Scholar
  23. Murgatroyd, S., Rushton, C., Apter, M. J., & Ray, C. The development of the Telic Dominance Scale.Journal of Personality Assessment 1978,42(5), 519–528.Google Scholar
  24. Nakshian, J. S. The effects of red and green surroundings on behavior.Journal of General Psychology 1964,70 143–161.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Nourse, J. C., & Welch, R. B. Emotional attributes of color: A comparison of violet and green.Perceptual and Motor Skills 1971,32 403–406.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Schachter, S. The interaction of cognitive and physiological determinants of emotional state. In P. H. Leiderman & D. Shapiro (Eds.),Psychobiological approaches to social behavior. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1964.Google Scholar
  27. Schaie, K. W. Scaling the association between colors and mood-tones.American Journal of Psychology 1961,74 266–273. (a)Google Scholar
  28. Schaie, K. W. A Q-sort study of color-mood association.Journal of Projective Techniques 1961,25 341–346. (b)PubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Schaie, K. W., & Heiss, R.Color and personality. Berne: Hans Huber, 1964.Google Scholar
  30. Smith, K. C. P., & Apter, M. J. A theory of psychological reversals. Chippenham (U.K.): Picton, 1975.Google Scholar
  31. Svebak, S. The significance of effort as well as serious minded and playful motivational states for task-induced tonic physiological changes.Biological Psychology 1982,14 113–128.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Svebak, S., & Stoyva, J. High arousal can be pleasant and exciting: The theory of psychological reversals.Biofeedback and Self-Regulation 1980,5 439–444.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Wexner, L. B. The degree to which colors (hues) are associated with mood-tones.Journal of Applied Psychology 1954,38 6, 432–435.Google Scholar
  34. Wilson, G. D. Arousal properties of red versus green.Perceptual and Motor Skills 1966,23 947–949.Google Scholar
  35. Wright, B., & Rainwater, L. The meaning of color.Journal of General Psychology 1962,67 89–99.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Zillmann, D. Excitation transfer in communication-mediated aggressive behavior.Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 1971,7 419–434.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jean Walters
    • 1
  • Michael J. Apter
    • 2
  • Sven Svebak
    • 3
  1. 1.University of Wales Institute of Science and TechnologyUK
  2. 2.Psychology DepartmentUniversity College CardiffCardiffWales, U.K.
  3. 3.University of BergenNorway

Personalised recommendations