Red, the color of passion, courage and danger

For millions of years color has influenced our mindset and thus our behavior. In the early days of our species, when our ancestors were hunters and gatherers (anywhere between 2 million and 10 thousand years ago), our minds were already continuously awash with colors. Our brains unconsciously relied on these colors to assess danger and survive the harsh prehistoric environment. The effect these colors have is deeply rooted in our minds. In this blog I want to discuss the color red and its effect on the psyche.

We associate the color red with danger, the color of blood. To notice this association all we need to do is scan our surroundings: red lights at railway crossings, red traffic signs, fire engines. The color red captures our attention in various ways. Not only psychologically but also physically. Our heart rate is raised along with blood pressure and the adrenaline level in our bloodstream. The body is being primed, ready to take action in order to survive.


The color red is associated with passion and warmth as well. We’ve spent hundreds of thousands of years gathered around hearths, depending on the fire for warmth and safety. We started to prepare food with heat, effectively killing bacteria. Another side effect was the group bonding that ensued from these gatherings. Friendship, romance, procreation in order to ensure the survival of our species. In our subconscious mind all of these things are closely related to fire and the color red. Many believe that this is the main reason for men to get excited by a woman in a red dress. The color red is subconsciously associated with the glow of embers in the tents and caves where our ancestors made our present existence possible.


Courage and masculinity is also associated with the color red. To survive our ancestors needed to hunt and that required perseverance and bravery. When blood flowed from the wounds of our prey it meant sustenance and survival. It instilled strength and courage.

Outside the effect red has on our primal instinct, some of the effects are culturally based. In many cases the meaning of the color red in the western world is different compared to what it means in China or Russia. Think about communism.

A misguided application of red

A typical false belief when it comes to using colors is the efficacy of the red colored emergency exit. Our instinct has us primed to associate red with danger so intuitively we’re reluctant to pass through a red door. On top of that stress levels are raised, something we specifically want to avoid during an emergency. Various studies have shown that the color red is often hardly visible, it being on the fringes of the visible spectrum. In situations were light is fading, with billowing smoke or power failure for example, greenish yellow is much more likely to capture our attention. Green is commonly associated with safety. The directions to the emergency exit are usually green as well. So why not the door itself?


Should we now proceed to paint all red emergency exits lime green? Not advisable. This is a typical example of a culture based association. After many years of red emergency exits we need to gently bring about a change in paradigm. From a color that spells danger to a color that instills a feeling of safety and, moreover, is easier to notice in darkened areas.


From red to green, from danger to safety.


Sense influencing zones

Color psychology is one of tools that I use in order to furnish sense influencing zones. Areas where desired behavior is elicited by means of an interdependent assortment of image, scent, sound and color. Take, for example, hotspots for loiterers. A common nuisance. What we offer is a makeover of the area. To redesign it in such a way that the stimulants that give rise to nuisances are no longer in play.

The aim of Urban Senses

Our aim is to bring about a positive environmental message* in order to get people into a positive frame of mind and, moreover, contribute to a general positive “vibe” effectively preventing common nuisances and petty crime. Are you interested in how Urban Senses can help you in carrying out a positive environmental message? Contact us for a free intake and quickscan. For more information on this subject, visit my website at

* The environmental message is the combination of all stimulants in a certain area. Examples of negative stimulants are poor illumination, noise pollution, stench, misapplication of colors, poorly styled graffiti, advertisements etc.



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