When we hear of someone who is “a gray person” or who has had “a gray day” we are usually referring to the existence of qualities such as sadness or monotony and lack of enthusiasm. On the other hand, it also expresses a certain continuity and trajectory.
The truth is that gray is a very particular color, which has traditionally received a very neutral symbolism despite its tendency to be frowned upon. This symbolism and its association with certain elements and vital moments caused the color gray to have a certain effect and a certain meaning at the psychic level. What does the color gray mean in psychology? Let’s take a look at it throughout this article.
What is this color?
Before proceeding to the evaluation of the symbolic and psychological meaning that the color gray is usually given to it, it is worth making a brief comment on what gray is in question. First of all, it should be noted that as with other colors, gray is nothing more than the product of the perception by our retinas of the refraction or the absence thereof of certain wavelengths of light.
In the same way that it happens with black or white, we are confronted with an achromatic color which is not perceived by the pigments present in our cones but which is captured by our rods, of which more than the color are dedicated. to capture the brightness or the amount of light present in the environment.
Gray is perceived due to an intermediate point between the capture of light and its absence, or the blocking of the former by an object. Technically and at the chromatic level, gray would be the midpoint or the mixture between white and black, Although depending on the proportions, it can be lighter or darker.
Due to its situation as a point in principle neutral between the two ends, it also has the distinction of being its own complement (although it has an interesting contrast where the colors like yellow).
But … what exactly does the color gray mean?
Symbolism and psychological meaning of gray
Although not one of the most popular colors, gray has been and always has been throughout history. an interesting symbolism for the human being, In large part due to its identification with items of the same color.
It is a color which in principle means neutral but which is easily considered negative, and psychologically associated with certain connotations (as Eva Heller sees it in her psychology of color). It is mainly associated with the color of white hair (and therefore aging and age), ash and dust, as well as stone (not on earth). Also, although it is not exactly the same color, it is also related to silver.
Most of the symbolism associated with gray and the psychological effects it usually generates in us are part of the relationship with these elements, as well as being a neutral point between black and white (An intermediate point which refers not only to the chromatic but also to the symbolism of each of them), which in turn have both positive and negative connotations. And is that if something is particularly characterized by the color gray, it is the neutrality of the color, a neutrality that can also have favorable and aversive connotations.
From a negative point of view, associating old age and age as well as ash with gray it is generally linked to the idea of progressive loss, of the proximity of the end. In this sense, it can be associated with the inevitable and cruelty, as well as the passage of time.
It is the color most associated with stone, from which life was not born (As in the case of the earth) but remains rather stable and unchanging, in addition to transmitting a little cold and a lack of heat. Although, as we have said, it is the color of neutrality, it can also be seen from a psychological point of view as indecision and weakness, as an inability to position oneself and even as repression (of self or self). and fear.
The absence of chromatism also links it to boredom (Which can come to facilitate), monotony and routine, apathy and conformity, and a lack of ambition, strength and fighting ability. To the lack of character and spontaneity, and to emptiness. Another of its psychic meanings is that of concealment, as it allows easy camouflage and deterioration.
In addition to the above, it should also be noted that the fact that it is linked to a decrease in the level of luminosity also makes it linked to phenomena considered sad, such as rain, which participates in the birth of expressions such as “gray day”. It is associated with the idea of a certain loss or reduction of something that was already there, a subtraction or reduction that is also negatively valued and which on the mental level is usually linked to sadness and melancholy as well as to avoidance (and in fact facilitates these mental states).
However, on the other hand, gray also has a much more positive affection and symbolism: on the one hand, its relationship to age speaks to us of experience and wisdom, of knowing how to be and sober (Which in turn generates a certain sense of tranquility and some protection). It relates to elegance and the ability to think.
Its neutrality, in a positive perspective, is also linked to the ability to value different points of view and remain impartial. Having said that, another of its meanings is the idea of permanence, seriousness and tradition, and its resemblance to money conveys a sense of worth. It is also a color linked to science and objectivity.
It is also related to modesty and intelligence, as well as self-control, respect and tranquility, encouraging communication and the pursuit of fairness in it. Usually, this type of meaning is usually given more when the gray has a whiter, brighter tint.
The use of gray color in everyday life
The symbolism of gray it is not a purely ideological thing, but it also has applications in a wide variety of industries.
At the marketing level, it is often used to represent stability, success and experience, which is related to the desire to project reliability and security. It should also be noted that it is linked to elegance and success, as well as to the memory of times gone by. This is why it is generally used by older brands or those looking to represent classic values. For example, high-level car brands or jewelry. Its connection to science also makes gray a common color in tech brands.
When used in clothing, it can be used as a concealment mechanism or to avoid attracting undue attention or to pretend sobriety. It can also be used to enhance specific and striking clothing (Eg generate contrast) or the image itself (such as the eyes).
Additionally, when used in painting, it usually takes advantage of its ease to combine it with other colors to provide a blend of expressiveness and restraint or to seek out formal and disciplined environments. This is why it is common in the business world, although generally looking for contrasts.
- Heller, I. (2004). Psychology of color. How the colors act on the feelings and the reason. Editorial Gustavo Gill.