Colors are more than merely a byproduct of the spectrum of light which our brain processes — so what does it all mean? Our mind perceives certain colors in association with our perceptions that affects raw emotions and senses on subconscious levels, goes beyond plain symbolism, and acts as a form of non-verbal communication. Let’s take a look at what the color red means to us.
The Passion Color
Red is a strong color that conjures up a range contradictory and intense emotions from anger, hate, and violence to passion, ardent love, and desire — it represents both the Devil and Cupid, the Roman god of erotic love and beauty.
It’s active, aggressive, bold, and outspoken, associated with energy, warfare, danger, strength, power, determination, and excitement.
Red is associated with the color of blood, certain flowers, ripe fruits, and suggests healthiness in humans who have a touch of red in their skin tone, opposed to those who are pale.
The color increases the pulse and heart rate, respiration rate, and raises your blood pressure.
The expression seeing red indicates anger and may stem not only from the stimulus of the color but from the natural flush of redness in the cheeks, a physical reaction to anger, increased blood pressure, or physical exertion. When a person becomes passionate, the heart rate goes up and the skin flushes as blood is pushed to the surface, causing the entire body to become more reddish.
Love is also associated with the heart, which of course is red and full of blood. The heart is the very thing that moves the blood through our body and the one organ most closely associated with it. A person’s skin becomes reddish when enflamed in the throes of passion, therefore red is associated with passion and love.
Red is frequently used as a symbol of guilt, sin, anger, and often connected with lust and sex. This all comes from a general Hebrew view inherited by Christianity which associates red with the blood of murder, and guilt in general. The color has been associated with prostitutes, brothels, and red-light districts.
Another popular example is in the phrase “caught red-handed,” meaning either caught in an act of crime or caught with the blood of murder still on one’s hands.
In Roman Catholicism, red represents wrath, one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Satan is usually depicted as colored red and / or wearing a red costume in iconography, popular culture, and Christianity.
Both the Greeks and the Hebrews considered red a symbol of love, as well as sacrifice.
There are those who like the red color because it’s bright or cheerful, and others who hate it because they suffered a wound years ago and the sight of anything red reminds them of blood or trauma.
Red sea star.
Panamic Cushion Sea Star at Viuda (Widow) dive site in Coiba National Park, Panama.
Red Ruffed Lemur, seriously endangered of extinction.
A little bit of red goes a long way, and small doses can often be more effective than large amounts of this strong color.
It’s a warm color which revs us up and gets us going, stimulating emotions from simple optimism to strong violence. Warm colors appear larger than cool colors so red can visually overpower blue even if used in equal amounts. They appear closer while their cool counterparts visually recede.
This color in clothing gets noticed and gives the appearance of the person being heavier. Since it’s an extreme color, red clothing might not help people in negotiations or confrontations.
Red cars are popular targets for thieves and stand out to police in radar speed stops. Decorators say that red furniture is perfect to attract attention.
Food researchers say that when humans searched for food, they learned to avoid toxic or spoiled objects, and red was the most popular food color. It increases your appetite by increasing your metabolism, which is why red is such a popular color in restaurants.
The color brings text and images to the foreground, bringing something noteworthy to light, or indicates anything inherently alarming. A red marker from your school days has negative connotations. It’s often used as an accent color to stimulate people to make quick decisions, such as ‘Buy Now’ or ‘Click Here’ buttons on Internet banners and websites.
Southern Ground Hornbill.
In advertising, red is often used to evoke erotic feelings — red lips, red nails, “Lady in Red,” etc. Since it’s commonly associated with energy, many use it when promoting energy drinks, games, cars, and items related to sports and high physical activity.
One bank found that their lines moved faster when they increased the use of red in the bank lobby, and in a study of several hundred college students, a researcher found that they responded more quickly to cues under red light than under green light.
Red deer fawn.
Red Highland cow.
Courage and Sacrifice
In heraldry, red is also used as a symbol of courage and sacrifice, as in blood spilt in sacrifice or courage in the face of lethal danger. Examples of this are found in the flags of many nations including the U.S.
In Christianity, red represents the color of Christian martyrs who suffered death for their faith. It’s sometimes used for Holy Thursday and during Eastertide. In Roman Catholic tradition it’s used for all feast days of Christian martyrs as well as Palm Sunday in anticipation of the death of Jesus.
Red is associated in Roman mythology with the god of war, Mars. A Roman general receiving a triumph had his entire body painted red in honor of his achievement.
The phrase “red-blooded” describes someone who is audacious, robust, or virile. In English heraldry, red (called gules) denoted ardent affection or love, while crimson (blood-color) stood for boldness, enthusiasm, or impetuosity.
Red catches people’s attention, and is often used either in a negative way to indicate danger such as high voltage signs and emergency, or in a positive way in advertising to gain more viewers.
Red Gum blossoms.
Studies have indicated that red carries the strongest reaction of all colors, so scientists recommend the color for warning signals, labels, and signs. Due to this, red is widely used as a danger signal, to warn people of extreme heat or flammability, and even signal warnings in sports.
Since the color has very high visibility, stop signs and stoplights are red to get the drivers’ attention, flashing red lights denote danger or emergency, and fire equipment and vehicles are usually red.
Culture of Red
Red conveys different meanings not only from culture to culture or from era to era, but within our own culture and time.
Red is power, hence the red power tie for business people and the red carpet for celebrities and VIP’s (very important people).
Monument Valley is located on the southern border of Utah with northern Arizona.
In China, red is an auspicious and lucky color, so many things are red for that very reason. At New Year money is given in red envelopes — called hong bao — to bring wealth and luck in the coming year. In traditional Chinese weddings, the groom and bride wear full red, and the altars are decked in red silk.
It’s the color of the South, fire, the phoenix, summer, and carries a largely positive connotation being associated with courage, loyalty, honor, success, fortune, fertility, passion, health, happiness, joy, and prosperity, and also represents birth coming to fruition such as a child being born.
On the negative side, obituaries are traditionally written in red ink, and to write someone’s name in red signals either cutting them out of your life, or that they have died. Red is also associated with both the feminine yin and the masculine yang, depending on the source. When someone commits suicide, especially female, and wants to haunt their love one, they will dress in red from top to bottom.
Douglas Furs reach for the sky at the bottom of Wall Street,
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.
Bryce Canyon National Park.
In Japan, red is a traditional color for a heroic figure. In the Indian Sub-continent, red is the traditional color of bridal dresses, and is frequently represented as a symbolic color for married women. The color is associated with sexuality in marriage relationships through its connection to heat and fertility. It’s also the color of wealth, beauty, the goddess Lakshmi, and believed to keep spirits away.
In Central Africa, Ndembu warriors rub themselves with red during celebrations. Since their culture sees the color as a symbol of life and health, sick people are also painted with it. The Ndembu see red as ambivalent, better than black, but not as good as white.
But in other parts of Africa, red is a color of mourning, representing death. Due to the connection red bears with death in many parts of Africa, the Red Cross has changed its colors to green and white in parts of the continent.
Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada.
Glen Canyon, Arizona.
In Russia the Bolsheviks used a red flag when they overthrew the Tsar, thus red became associated with communism.
Typical Spanish association with red is the traditional “Fiesta and Bullfighting,” with the color representative of blood, blood of the bull, and the Sangrey Arena — blood and sand.
Badger Women in Abyaneh where all houses are red.
Science and Astronomy
The color red may be any number of identical colors at the lowest frequencies of light visible by the human eye. Red is also one of the chief colors of noticeable light, the other two being green and blue.
Orion Nebula image from Hubble & Spitzer.
Messier 74, a.k.a. NGC 628, is a spiral galaxy 30,000,000 light-years away.
Red light is the first to be absorbed by sea water, so many fish and marine invertebrates that appear bright red are black in their native habitat.
Red is strongly connected to fire, the sun, some stars, and skies at sunset or sunrise.
Stars of spectral type M — the stars with the coolest temperature — are classified as red stars. Mars is called the Red Planet because of the reddish color imparted to its surface by the abundant iron oxide present there. Astronomical objects moving away from the observer display a red shift. Jupiter’s surface bears a Great Red Spot — a football-shaped area south of the planet’s equator — which astronomers believe to be some kind of storm.
The Trifid Nebula — 9,000 light years from Earth.
Cone Nebula (NGC 2264): Star-Forming Pillar of Gas and Dust.
Dark Matter Distribution in Supercluster Abell 901/902.
Statistics have shown that red cars are more likely to be involved in accidents.
Psychics who claim to be able to observe the aura with their third eye state that someone with a red aura is typically one in an occupation requiring vibrant health and vigorous physical exertion, such as a professional sportsperson, personal trainer, or a manual laborer.
The association with lust, love, passion and beauty is possibly related to the use of red roses as a love symbol.
Red roses say “I love you.” They’re the ultimate symbol of romantic love and enduring passion. A single red rose says “I love you, (but I’m not going to go broke telling you.)”
According to certain beliefs, when feng shui colors are used properly they’ll bring the desired energy into your environment. Red color carries the energy of Fire element in feng shui, which has always been a symbol of divine energy and can be both destructive and creative. It represents the energy of sun and life. A balanced feng shui Fire Element in your home will bring joy, excitement and sexual desire.
The Feng Shui energy of red is arousal — it’s hot, passionate, rich, and celebratory.
In feng shui color decorating red signifies richness and luxury, but if used too much it can bring restlessness, bursts of anger and over-stimulation. Caution of over-use is recommended, but some agree with using it freely in the living room, dining room, and kitchen.
It’s suggested to limit the red Fire energy in specific “Ba-Gua” areas of your home — East, Southeast (governed by the Wood element), Home, as well as West and Northwest (governed by the Metal element.) It is, however, excellent to use in the South (Fame & Reputation), as it matches the element of this direction.
Kazan Temple and Historical Museum, part of Red square, Moscow, Russia.
Red by Definition
A number of dictionaries define the color red with a variety of meanings and associations:
• Of the color of blood or fire
• Of hair — a bright brownish orange or copper color
• Bloodshot — eyes that are bloodshot or with red rims, such as from tiredness
• Red face — blushing, from shame or embarrassment
• Debt — the state of being in debt, or owing money to the bank. Be/get into the red
• Left-wing — Politics, socialist or communist
• Soviet — relating or belonging to the former Soviet Union
• Wine — red wine made from black grapes
• Coloring — pigment or dye that is of or near to the color of blood
Language of Red
Some of the most typical English idioms using the word red include:
• Red herring — something that deceives or distracts attention from the truth
• Paint the town red — celebrate, go out partying
• Red tape — the heavy use of and emphasis on official papers, formal details, rules etc, that characterizes the work done by some public groups, such as government departments
• Red flag — denotes danger, warning, or an impending battle
• See red — become violently angry
• See the red light — to see possible danger in the future
• Red-letter day — a day on which something good or special happens or is supposed to happen.
• As red as a beetroot, lobster, or a tomato — feeling awkward or ashamed
• Thin red line — a group of courageous people that defend an area or principle and refuse to yield to any attack
• Red carpet treatment — make someone feel special, treat them as if they’re a celebrity
• In the red — being overdrawn at the bank or losing money
• Red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning; red sky at night, sailor’s delight — pay attention to good and bad warning signs
• To not have a red cent — to have no money at all, or to be extremely poor
• Red eye — an overnight flight
• Find someone red-handed — to discover someone just as they’re doing something forbidden or unlawful
• Red words — words synonymous with red or represent various shades of the color red
Mysore Palace Fully Illuminated.
Fireworks at Redbank.
Scarlet, crimson, vermillion, carmine, maroon, burgundy, ruby, rose, madder, rouge, brick, blood red, blush, fire engine red, cinnabar, russet, rust, Venetian red, flame, Indian red, tomato.
Light red represents joy, sexuality, passion, sensitivity, and love.
Dark red is associated with vigor, willpower, rage, anger, leadership, courage, longing, malice, and wrath.
Reddish-brown is associated with harvest and fall.
The red Ruby is the traditional 40th Wedding Anniversary gift.