Extending Color Psychology to the Personality Realm: Interpersonal Hostility Varies by Red Preferences and Perceptual Biases


  • This publication was made possible by COBRE Grant P20 GM103505 from the Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Its contents are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official views of NIGMS or NIH. The authors would like to thank Andrew Elliot for his feedback on this article.


The color psychology literature has made a convincing case that color is not just about aesthetics, but also about meaning. This work has involved situational manipulations of color, rendering it uncertain as to whether color-meaning associations can be used to characterize how people differ from each other. The present research focuses on the idea that the color red is linked to, or associated with, individual differences in interpersonal hostility. Across four studies (N = 376 undergraduates), red preferences and perceptual biases were measured along with individual differences in interpersonal hostility. It was found that (a) a preference for the color red was higher as interpersonal hostility increased, (b) hostile people were biased to see the color red more frequently than nonhostile people, and (c) there was a relationship between a preference for the color red and hostile social decision making. These studies represent an important extension of the color psychology literature, highlighting the need to attend to person-based, as well as situation-based, factors.