The Scientific Purpose Of Color
Start writing a post

What is the purpose of color? By all accounts, we should be able to operate in the world around us without it, using our depth perception, sense of touch, hearing etc., so why has color become such a huge part of our reality?

In nature, color, besides being aesthetically pleasing, can also be useful. For example, some plants or animals with vibrant colors have a tendency to be poisonous, flowers stand out so that bees can spot them more easily, and the plumage on a particular bird can be used to attract a mate. However, in all these examples, we can see that the usage of different colors is to tell different animals, different things.

In our human world, see this every day: green means “go”, red means “stop”, stand back from the yellow line, etc. If I put on a black and white striped shirt, black pants, and a black hat, and show up to a sporting event, most people will assume that I am some sort of official at that event. However, unlike the brightly colored and highly venomous poison dart frog or the blooming cherry blossoms of Washington D.C., we, as a society, made the conscious decision to use those exact colors and give them their specific meanings. What I mean is, someone could have just as easily decided that pink would represent “go” and orange would represent “stop”, but the poison dart frog makes no decision to appear the way it does.

According to some naturalists and biologists, years of evolution and natural selection via anti-predator adaptation are responsible for the bright colors observed in said frog. In other words, in theory, a long time ago there were both poisonous ordinary-colored frogs, and poisonous brightly colored frogs. After a while, the theory goes that over time, predators started recognizing or associating the brightly colored frogs with poison and death, and so instinctively began to avoid eating them, while the ordinary colored frogs were still eaten, since predators could not distinguish them from ordinary, non-poisonous frogs. According to natural selection, this would mean that the ordinary colored poisonous frog population would fade into the distance while the brightly colored poisonous frog population would become the poisonous frog that we see today (interestingly, both the decision to assign red and green to “stop” and “go” and the theory that the color scheme of some animals may have evolved through natural selection developed around 1865, which is also around the time of the end of the American Civil War, whose origins centered around differences in skin color).

What’s interesting about all this is that what roles certain colors have in the world are not only assigned unconsciously by nature, but now also consciously by human beings. For example, if I drive a car anywhere in the world, I think I would be hard pressed to find a traffic light where green did not represent “go” and red did not represent “stop”. Different cultures also ascribe different meanings to different colors as well, such as the color red signifying good fortune in Chinese culture.

However, at the same time, humans, as animals, are also somewhat aware of those inherent meanings to color passed down to us through evolution. For example, if I was to walk through the jungles of Central America and were to come across an Eyelash Viper for the first time, I think that I would most likely get the instinctual feeling that that is an animal whose bite would do more than break skin, despite the fact that I’ve never seen one before.

Granted, from a purely physical standpoint, color is just light interacting with the different atomic makeup of particles of matter in our universe. Also, to the best of our knowledge, the universe, light, and energy have existed longer than all living things. This would mean that color itself has existed long before plants and animals aka all living things.

What I take away from all this is that, in theory, living beings give color its purpose both consciously and subconsciously. The colors we see in the world around us have two meanings: the definitions assigned by other human beings, and the definitions assigned by nature over many generations. This means that, at its core, the purpose of color, for living beings, is communication.

Color adds another dimension to almost every aspect of our daily lives. Everything from the color of clothes that we wear, the cars we drive, the gifts we give, and the ink that we use to write in takes on this dimension of communication we call color. With each variation on the wavelength of light comes a different meaning, and what it means exactly changes from person to person. We should take note of how powerful a force color is in this world, and respect its gravity.

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
Robert Bye on Unsplash

I live by New York City and I am so excited for all of the summer adventures.

Keep Reading... Show less

The invention of photography

The history of photography is the recount of inventions, scientific discoveries and technical improvements that allowed human beings to capture an image on a photosensitive surface for the first time, using light and certain chemical elements that react with it.


The history of photography is the recount of inventions, scientific discoveries and technical improvements that allowed human beings to capture an image on a photosensitive surface for the first time, using light and certain chemical elements that react with it.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

Exposing Kids To Nature Is The Best Way To Get Their Creative Juices Flowing

Constantly introducing young children to the magical works of nature will further increase the willingness to engage in playful activities as well as broaden their interactions with their peers


Whenever you are feeling low and anxious, just simply GO OUTSIDE and embrace nature! According to a new research study published in Frontiers in Psychology, being connected to nature and physically touching animals and flowers enable children to be happier and altruistic in nature. Not only does nature exert a bountiful force on adults, but it also serves as a therapeutic antidote to children, especially during their developmental years.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

5 Simple Ways To Give Yourself Grace, Especially When Life Gets Hard

Grace begins with a simple awareness of who we are and who we are becoming.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

If there's one thing I'm absolutely terrible at, it's giving myself grace. I'm easily my own worst critic in almost everything that I do. I'm a raging perfectionist, and I have unrealistic expectations for myself at times. I can remember simple errors I made years ago, and I still hold on to them. The biggest thing I'm trying to work on is giving myself grace. I've realized that when I don't give myself grace, I miss out on being human. Even more so, I've realized that in order to give grace to others, I need to learn how to give grace to myself, too. So often, we let perfection dominate our lives without even realizing it. I've decided to change that in my own life, and I hope you'll consider doing that, too. Grace begins with a simple awareness of who we are and who we're becoming. As you read through these five affirmations and ways to give yourself grace, I hope you'll take them in. Read them. Write them down. Think about them. Most of all, I hope you'll use them to encourage yourself and realize that you are never alone and you always have the power to change your story.

Keep Reading... Show less

Breaking Down The Beginning, Middle, And End of Netflix's Newest 'To All The Boys' Movie

Noah Centineo and Lana Condor are back with the third and final installment of the "To All The Boys I've Loved Before" series


Were all teenagers and twenty-somethings bingeing the latest "To All The Boys: Always and Forever" last night with all of their friends on their basement TV? Nope? Just me? Oh, how I doubt that.

I have been excited for this movie ever since I saw the NYC skyline in the trailer that was released earlier this year. I'm a sucker for any movie or TV show that takes place in the Big Apple.

Keep Reading... Show less

4 Ways To Own Your Story, Because Every Bit Of It Is Worth Celebrating

I hope that you don't let your current chapter stop you from pursuing the rest of your story.

Photo by Manny Moreno on Unsplash

Every single one of us has a story.

I don't say that to be cliché. I don't say that to give you a false sense of encouragement. I say that to be honest. I say that to be real.

Keep Reading... Show less
Politics and Activism

How Young Feminists Can Understand And Subvert The Internalized Male Gaze

Women's self-commodification, applied through oppression and permission, is an elusive yet sexist characteristic of a laissez-faire society, where women solely exist to be consumed. (P.S. justice for Megan Fox)

Paramount Pictures

Within various theories of social science and visual media, academics present the male gaze as a nebulous idea during their headache-inducing meta-discussions. However, the internalized male gaze is a reality, which is present to most people who identify as women. As we mature, we experience realizations of the perpetual male gaze.

Keep Reading... Show less

It's Important To Remind Yourself To Be Open-Minded And Embrace All Life Has To Offer

Why should you be open-minded when it is so easy to be close-minded?


Open-mindedness. It is something we all need a reminder of some days. Whether it's in regards to politics, religion, everyday life, or rarities in life, it is crucial to be open-minded. I want to encourage everyone to look at something with an unbiased and unfazed point of view. I oftentimes struggle with this myself.

Keep Reading... Show less
Facebook Comments