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Peter Vsevolodovich Yan'shin  


Psychology and psycho-semantics   OF COLOR   psychology      psycho-semantics       of color          psycho-semantics

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On this page are placed theses and the definitions, protected in the doctoral thesis of the author at the session of dissertation advice D 501.001.14 at the Moscow State University of M.V.Lomonosov 7-th of June 2001. Leading organization: Institute of psychology of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Psycho-semantics of Color  

Psychology - this is the science about the soul. Semantics - science about the meanings. In the Russian language the word "color" has double sense: (1) totality of all visible hues and (2) specific hue. If we combine terms "psychology", "semantics" and "color", then will come out the science, which studies the sincere meaning of the separate hues of color and Color as a whole .  

The basic problem of psycho-semantics of color is divided into two closely related theoretical aspects:(1) question about the role of the perception of color for the man (ontology and pragmatics) and (2) analysis of the structure of specific color meanings (semantics and semiotics of color). As the synonyms to psycho-semantics of color it is possible to put "psychology of color" .

The thesis about existence of the natural meanings in colors , which nature is in many respects mysterious, is basic in psycho-semantics of color. In my understanding, the sources of these meanings are located out of the cultural and historical field. This is the ontological assumption - the first of two.

A thought about existence of the special meanings of colors does not belong to psychologists. In one form or another, this thought is encountered in the ancient Indian, alchemic, mystical, religious texts. It is personified in the ritual practice of all religions and the applied skill (icon, ornament, symbolic letter) bonded with it. It appeared in the numerous facts of color symbolism in the practice of traditional eastern medicine, magic, astrology, etc.  

The beginning of the scientific reflection of the phenomenon of color meaning of new time can be attributed to Goethe's studies about the color and in his thesis about "sensual- moral action of color".

Statements above are in contrast with the opinion of physicists about the nature of color. At present the color is considered not as the property of things, but as subjective sensation. But if colors are allotted by meanings, i.e., they bear the certain psychological content, their study requires yield beyond the limits of the strictly mechanical causal approach, formulated in classical physics ( I.Newton and its followers ). The main methodological presupposition of the approach developed by me lies in that the presence and the specific of color semantics reflects existence of man in the world, contact of subject with the world, and ensures the adequate reflection of objective reality at different levels of representation to the subject  of this reality.  This does require introducing the second ontological assumption - the existence of color not only in the form of subjective sensations and images, but also as the objective aspect of reality, the objective property of objects . In psycho-semantics of color the color consecutively is considered as one of the attributes of objective reality (Hegel, of 1977;Goethe, 1920; Schechtel, 1943; Rubenstein, 1973, Svas'yan, 1983), not reduced to the characteristics of subjective sensation. At the same time color is examined not in the aspect of color differentiation, as is customary in psychophysiology or colorymetry ( Iwens, 1964; Pedkhem, Sonders, 1978; Sokolov, Izmailov, 1984; Shashlov, 1986, etc.), but in the aspect of its interpretation , in its correlation with the "nonperceptual" categories, such as physiological reactions, emotions, feelings, ideas, moral and ethical categories, i.e., in the manner that by centuries was practised by artists.  

Color is natural sign, or symbol, since that denotate and designate in it is inseparably joint. To a similar semiotic situation is completely applied the thesis of the academician V.F. Petrenko: the image is the "perceptive statement" about the world (Petrenko, 1976). The chief characteristic of that kind of signs is coalescence of the layout of expression (form) and layout of the content. This special feature is characteristic for the image, "eydos", in the terminology of a.F.Losev (Losev, 1990). To the difference to  discursive concept, for which is stated the strict relationship between the form (number of objects, which fall under the category) and by the content (structure of the classifying criteria of category), for eydos the form and content are joint into one "semantic sculpture". This means that the "elements" of a form in color meaning are the "elements" of its content . Consequently, the category structures, which classify colors in our mind and soul, themselves are represent color meanings . In other words, entire spectrum of reactions to the color: physiological, emotional, behavioral, intellectual, etc., regarding to their constancy, is the desired content of color meaning. Consequently, by natural meaning of colors should be understood any phenomenology, bonded with the perception, influence or the use of colors under the condition of its (phenomenology) stability.  

Thus, it is possible to formulate the following definition, thus far even preliminary: there is a psychological (semantic) structure of color meanings, formed by different types of meanings, category structures, which "classify" colors at the different levels of their interaction with the integral (whole) subject, and by the steady rules of the translation of this classification into the category structures of the developed systems of meanings, including the verbal ones. To explain a quantity of these levels, their special feature and rule of creation - is the special task of psycho-semantics of color.

How and when did arise color meanings? This is - enigma "after seven printings". Let us proceed from the fact that the meanings of color are not invented by people . They are not created, but "are refracted", manifested, "are interpreted" by social-historical practice. This may indicate the following: as semantic phenomenon in question, the color assume the certain specific category system (in contrast to those, which are invented by man) and, therefore, the certain specific type of meaning, its forming by, and the special "rule of creation" of such meanings. This type of meanings has precultural (all-human, possibly - biological, "objective") roots. Already therefore it is different from the object meanings, closely related to the speech. One of important feature of this semantic system -  is the relation to the complete organism. By the second - it is somewhat diffuse, that should be defined as "emotion-like" in the broadest sense of word "emotion". The third - "nature" or ecology: color meaning must represent the certain important features of natural objects or conditions of vital activity. Fourth criterion - "involveness" of this meaning into the sensual matter of mental (psychic) image, i.e., direct representation to subject. One additional cardinal difference from the object (verbal, denotative) paradigm of meanings lies in the fact that wather the denotative meanings mediate the human activity, which converts external ("objective") reality, then Color itself influences the man and in this sense can be treated as the subject, who possesses something resembling will. Colors themselves are the natural means of the classification of objects, phenomena and events. This, in particular, are expressed in the symbolic function of colors, which exists from the antiquity and to the present (Turner, 1983).

Thus, being turned to a study of color meaning, we turn to phenomenology, which remains on the periphery of the field of psychology .

The type of meaning indicated above, we designated by term "natural (natural) meaning" for the purpose to distinguish it from the developed forms of verbal meanings. This is made by analogy with  proposed by I.P. Pavlov separation of the primary (unconditioned reflex) and secondary (conditioned-reflex) signal systems, or, which is nearer to the developed by us psychological context,  - with the introduced by L.S.Vygotsky classification of mental/psychic functions to the "natural"  and highest mental/psychic functions. It is assumed, thus, that nature of natural meanings, one way or another, is correlated with nature of unconditioned reflex reactions or the natural mental/psychic functions, among which there are "natural languages", which mediate intercourse between animals, and the natural signs, which determine existence of instinctive forms of behavior ("unconditioned stimuli", the relyser, trigger signs of medium or situation) (Lorenz, 1994, Haind, 1975, Tinbergen, 1993).  

This determines a strategy of providing the investigation in color semantics: the steady semantic projections of color into different category contexts come out as the object of the study of psycho-semantics of color. In the impressive aspect the following phenomena come out:

  1. the relations of color to the different perceptive modalities: taste, tactile sensations, the perception of space and motion; 

  2. induction by the color of special mental state;

  3. the influence of mental (emotional) state of subject on a characteristic change in the coloring of the perceptive image;

  4. the correlation of the color perception with the steady personality trates.

Expressive aspect - the use of color as the sign (expression) of the  attitude and self-attitude, i.e., as reflection, "visualsation", of emotions in the consciousness

The special aspect of analysis is a study of laws governing the color preference  depending on psychic/mental state and psychological features of man - as one of the cardinal phenomena of the relationship of man with the color.

The theoretical hypothesis of experimental psycho-semantics of color lies in the fact that between the color sensation and the emotional tone there are "double-sided" interrelations, i.e., between them are possible not only translation of the content (Artem'eva, 1980), but also mutually-creations (transformation). Phenomenologically this must correspond to creation of inner (psychic) color from the appropriate emotions, or in the specific change in the coloring of mental image with the experience of the specific emotional state (or, otherwise, - in the correspondence of the coloring of image to a "hue" of experience).

It is assumed that synesthesia, or emotional - perceptive universalities (E.Y.Artem'eva), emotional- perceptive patterns (Korj, Rebeko, Safuanova) mediate the translation of color meaning into the contexts of different perceptive modalities. Synesthesia mediates the projection of color meaning in the layer of developed verbal category structures, that also determines the "vertical" structure of color meaning. 

[ 1 ] ontology (from the Greek. ontos - real and logos - concept, reason) - the study about existence.

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