In the kitchen cabinet convenient to our countertop coffeemaker (I’m on a roll with the letter C today), we keep a couple of large mugs; souvenirs from the San Diego Zoo. Identical in size and shape, both mugs have images of animals on them. More importantly, one mug is light blue while the other is bright red. For this reason and no other, I place the blue mug at the front of the cabinet and the red mug further back. My preference is the blue one.
If these same mugs were in your kitchen cabinet, which would you choose? What if I added a green mug and a purple mug – would your choice be just as clear? It should be, since we all have favorite colors. Unless we’re colorblind we concur when something is blue, or something is red. We even agree when something blue is “pretty” (say, the summer sky) or something red is not (say, the heart of a forest fire). But that’s just preference by association. Favorite colors are part of our DNA.
As far back as I can remember my favorite color is green. I also like blue and purple, but if I only get a single Skittles make it green. With board games, I choose the green pieces. With my wardrobe, I own several green shirts (but no red ones). My wife and I once owned – one after the other – a green van, followed by a green sedan, followed by a green mini-van; even though the more popular vehicle colors are white, silver, black, and dark grey. It may be no coincidence the colors of my alma mater are blue, gold… and green.
Don’t let the numbers influence your choice but 35% of Americans prefer blue while 16% prefer green, 10% purple, and 9% red. Orange, yellow, and brown sit together at the back of the bus. Also, gentlemen may prefer blondes, but gentlemen definitely prefer blondes in red. To heterosexual men at least, women in red draw more romantic attention than any other color.
Infants show a preference for color as early as twelve weeks old. That’s hardly an age where you associate colors with material things. Toddlers show a preference for pink and blue regardless of sex (and cool colors over warm), but choose yellow over both of them – perhaps owing to association with the sun, flowers, and other “happy” things.
Here’s where favorite colors get interesting. At five years of age you begin to associate colors with more than just “things”. You associate with feelings and states of mind as well. Consider the table above. My preference for green suggests a good/bad combination of traits. Immodestly I like to think I have good taste. Unquestionably I put a premium on my health. Envy? Sure, every now and then. Eco-friendly? Nope, not really.
Red and blue make for better arguments. The “lust”, “power”, and “speed” associated with red explain why it’s the color of choice for sports cars, and why red uniforms statistically improve performance in certain sports (think Tiger Woods). All five blue traits explain why the color is so prevalent in the American workplace (and primary in the logos of standard brands like Ford, Facebook, and IBM). Even the traits of violet/purple make sense: the color most associated with royalty.
Our desire to interpret the meaning of favorite colors has been around a long time. The Rose of Temperaments is a wheel-like image from the late eighteenth century, matching colors to character traits and occupations. See what your color says about you. If green goes to my very soul, the rose is strikingly accurate. I can make a case for every trait in the list of phlegmatic. My tendencies are also more introverted than extroverted. The rose gives me reasons for envying red, yellow, or blue (and reasons for not), but I can’t deny it: I am literally defined by my favorite color.
Speaking of the basic colors, we also favor color names. Mother Nature’s rainbow just doesn’t do it anymore. In a recent remodel project my wife and I chose the paint color “Cocoa Whip” over “Havana Coffee” and “Wild Truffle”; when in fact we were simply choosing a shade of brown. In product tests, participants shown swatches of the same color consistently preferred the one with the most elegant name.
Closing comment on my favorite color green. You do know what they say about green M&M’s, don’t you? The aphrodisiacal effects (urban legend) are explained by the color’s association with fertility. However, the better story comes from 1976, when the FDA banned the chemical “red dye #2” and red M&M’s temporarily departed the production line. Rumor had it the reds were the real aphrodisiacs, employees were pocketing them straight from the line, and the whole red dye #2 story was a cover-up. Red, green, whatever the color; they all taste good to me. Even the brown ones, which testers swear taste more like chocolate than any other color.