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Stacy Blecher's picture

Is my red the same as your red?



            What if when I was young someone showed me something that reflected light at a wavelength of 700 nanometers and said, “Stacy, this is blue.”  Similarly, they showed me something that reflected light at a wavelength of about 450 and said, “Stacy, the is red.”  In this case, my idea of red and your idea of red would be quite different.  Color identification is a learned skill, not something inherent and also not something necessarily exclusive to humans.  You can train animals to recognize certain colors and what events, emotions or experiences are associated with them.  Calmness or a soothing feeling has been said to be brought about in humans by the color green.  Studies have shown that the presence of the color red can stimulate people to make quick decisions, which is why a lot of the buttons on the internet that say “Click Here!” or “Buy Now!” are red.  Would I be affected by this marketing ploy?  Is it the specific wavelength (or relative amount of activity in two receptors) that triggers these emotions or does it have more to do with our socialization?  I suppose if the emotions are the product of some specific interaction between specified wavelength and an emotion transmitter, then I would experience “red emotions” such as impulsiveness, sexuality and revenge every time that I saw a something that was blue to me.  On the other hand, if these responses to color are socially generated, that is, if we are socialized to evoke specific emotions in response to certain colors, then it is possible that when I see a “Buy Now!” button that reflects light at 700 nanometers I become calm, patient and tranquil because, to me, that wavelength represents the color blue and the preceding feelings are considered to be “blue emotions.” 

            I wonder if these emotional responses are an evolutionary response to our environment.  Water (such as oceans, lakes, rivers etc) makes up approximately 70% of the Earth and reflects around 450 nanometers, or the color blue.  Perhaps if the oceans were red we would become calm at the sight of 700 nanometer wavelength.   


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