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Sunday, 20 January, 2002, 00:41 GMT
Using colour as a medicine
Celing detail in the hydrotherapy unit
By Georgina Kenyon

Sitting by the pool surrounded by bright reds, blues and oranges in a modern abstract design, you would be forgiven for thinking you were at a spa in a hotel rather than in the hydrotherapy room at a major London hospital.

Now it's proven. Colour affects our emotions

Dr James Nobbs
The colours in this room make you feel good. In fact, you may even want to take a dip.

Jane Duncan, artist in residence at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, said: "I wanted to use colour to achieve a dynamic environment for the patients in the hydrotherapy room, to encourage them to move and exercise. I also wanted them to feel cheerful.

But according to researchers at Leeds University, the colour's Ms Duncan had used in her mural in the hydrotherapy room were exactly the kind of colours they found make people feel dynamic and positive.

Complex equations

Only the Leeds researchers had used mathematics, with very complicated equations and numbers, to describe how people responded positively to different colours.

Hydrotherapy pool
Mural in the hydrotherapy department
Dr James Nobbs, from the Colour Chemistry Department at Leeds University, said: "Until now, how people responded emotionally to colour was the domain of artists and designers who could not substantiate their claims in scientific terms.

"But now it's proven. Colour affects our emotions."

Dr Nobbs and his colleagues at Leeds University have been working with scientists at the Kyoto Institute of Technology, Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the Chulalongkorn University in Thailand, to create what they call colour emotion scales.

These scales are a group of complex equations that identify probable responses from individual colours.

The researchers created these scales after analysing the response people had to different colours through word pairs.

The team asked trial participants how they felt when they saw a particular colour, For example, was a colour soft or hard? Was it deep or pale and was it warm or cool? A total of 12 word pair questions were given to trial participants.

Palette of colours

I knew colour was very powerful

Jane Duncan
After a whole palette of colours was analysed by such a method in the UK, Japan, Hong Kong and Thailand, graphs were drawn up of the results.

Empirical equations were then made from the graphs.

The researchers say: "In order to analyse the mechanism of colour perception and cognition in the brain, it is necessary to have quantitative scales.

"Word is the output of the colour perception, cognition and feeling and it is the most useful key for communication," say the researchers.

Ms Duncan said: "I knew colour was very powerful. But it can be difficult to quantify the right colours in a mural to create the desired effect in a healthcare setting."

Having read about Dr Nobbs' research in a scientific journal, she decided to test the colours in her mural against the colour scales.

"It was extraordinary, I knew the mural had a very positive effect on everyone following patient and staff surveys.

"But the colour scales showed that we had picked the right kind of colours and right type of tones to make people active and positive."


The art works are part of a larger program to study the effects of the visual and performing arts in healthcare at the Hospital by the Chelsea and Westminster Arts Research Project.

Dr Nobbs is now assessing the effect of two or more colours together on the emotions.

One application of Dr Nobbs research will be to assess the efficacy of drugs and treatment in particular visual environments.

See also:

13 Jan 02 | Health
Hiding emotions 'increases anger'
23 Apr 01 | Health
Psyche influences recovery
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