Psychological Research

, Volume 82, Issue 5, pp 896–914 | Cite as

Color and emotion: effects of hue, saturation, and brightness

  • Lisa Wilms
  • Daniel OberfeldEmail author
Original Article


Previous studies on emotional effects of color often failed to control all the three perceptual dimensions of color: hue, saturation, and brightness. Here, we presented a three-dimensional space of chromatic colors by independently varying hue (blue, green, red), saturation (low, medium, high), and brightness (dark, medium, bright) in a factorial design. The 27 chromatic colors, plus 3 brightness-matched achromatic colors, were presented via an LED display. Participants (N = 62) viewed each color for 30 s and then rated their current emotional state (valence and arousal). Skin conductance and heart rate were measured continuously. The emotion ratings showed that saturated and bright colors were associated with higher arousal. The hue also had a significant effect on arousal, which increased from blue and green to red. The ratings of valence were the highest for saturated and bright colors, and also depended on the hue. Several interaction effects of the three color dimensions were observed for both arousal and valence. For instance, the valence ratings were higher for blue than for the remaining hues, but only for highly saturated colors. Saturated and bright colors caused significantly stronger skin conductance responses. Achromatic colors resulted in a short-term deceleration in the heart rate, while chromatic colors caused an acceleration. The results confirm that color stimuli have effects on the emotional state of the observer. These effects are not only determined by the hue of a color, as is often assumed, but by all the three color dimensions as well as their interactions.



We are grateful to Gerhard Vossel for helpful suggestions concerning the experimental setup and the registration of the physiological parameters. We thank Agnes Münch for her valuable help with the technical implementation of the experiment and with the analysis of the physiological data. We are grateful to Martin Happ for extending his HRM R package (, so that we could use it for analyses involving three within-subjects factors. Two anonymous reviewers provided helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper.

Compliance with ethical standards


No external funding received.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Psychology, Section Experimental PsychologyJohannes Gutenberg-UniversitätMainzGermany

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