Feelings, Music, Color: It's All Connected, Dude

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music embed 1photographed by ingalls photo; set design by marie-yan morvan
You know how it goes: You hear a song and feel all sorts of feelings, evoked by everything from the rhythm and the pace to the lyrics. The same thing can happen when you see a certain color. Think you love blue and gray in your bedroom just because? Not likely. No need for Xanax — they are legit soothing.

University of California, Berkeley, researcher Stephen Palmer recently published a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which showed that the type of Bach music participants listened to affected which colors they chose afterward. “Faster music in the major mode, produced color choices that were more saturated, lighter, and yellower," the study concludes. "Whereas slower, minor music produced the opposite pattern — choices that were unsaturated, darker, and bluer.” The colors were chosen from the whole ROYGBIV spectrum, including red, orange, yellow, chartreuse, green, cyan, blue, and purple (all of which had four values of brightness and vividness) as well as the basics — white, black, and a few versions of gray.

“While we did not use brain scans to know exactly what neural events are occurring that made them choose certain colors for certain music more than others, it seems likely that the tempo-to-emotion link is related to patterns of motor behavior,” says Palmer. Essentially, faster tempos could be associated with more positive emotions (happiness) and slower tempos with less positive emotions (sadness). All this basically mirrors real life: “People are typically more energetic when happy — they skip and dance when ecstatic — and more lethargic when sad,” he says. Although, he notes that the real why is still very much a mystery in the scientific arena. Even though the differences in notes are often seemingly insignificant, they can drastically alter someone’s emotions.

Want to test it out? Try out our non-Bach tunes (that have emotion-evoking lyrics, too, unlike in the study) just for fun! Play any of them as you get dressed today, and point to the colors that are the most consistent with the tunes.
music embed 2photographed by ingalls photo; set design by marie-yan morvan
Don't Worry, Be Happy

"Somebody That I Used To Know" by Gotye
"Against All Odds" by The Postal Service
"Ain't No Sunshine" by Bill Withers

“Darkness and blue could be associated with twilight and night, which tends to make people feel withdrawn and sad,” explains Palmer. “And the cones in our retina are least sensitive to blue light.”

Red Hot

"For Whom The Bell Tolls" by Metallica
"Killing in the Name" by Rage Against the Machine
"Bullet With Butterfly Wings" by Smashing Pumpkins

“Anger may be linked to red, because people's faces get red when they get angry (and blood rushes to their faces),” says Palmer.

Keep Calm and Listen On

"Ho Hey" by The Lumineers
"Spend the Night" by Deer Tick
"Cherokee" by Cat Power

“A feeling of calm is often tied to more subdued (muted) colors, probably because they are less energetic colors,” says Palmer.