What does the color lilac mean in psychology?

Lilac color is one of the shades of purple, which is generated by the combination of the latter with the color white. Purple, on the other hand, can be achieved by combining a cool color (blue) and a warm color (red).

Purple and lilac have been associated with psychological and cultural meanings different, which we will see developed below.

    Description and characteristics of this color

    The color lilac takes its name from the botanical species Syringa vulgaris, which includes flowers whose distinctive feature is this color. It includes a wide range of shades from light lilac to common lilac, French lilac, mauve and lavender.

    Also, lilac can be obtained by the combination of violet with whiteThis is why it is considered to be one of the many types of violets that exist. The other purple derivatives are now purple, purple or burgundy. Each varies depending on the intensity of the violet itself.

    For its part, purple is considered one of the primary colors by the RGB system (red, green, blue), which is the chromatic analysis developed by Isaac Newton by the decomposition of sunlight. This decomposition was obtained by means of a glass prism at several wavelengths, which produced a chromatic circle with the colors violet, Indian, blue, green, yellow, orange and red.

    For the RGB system, white light can be recreated by the sum of three colored lights: green, blue-violet, and red-orange. These lights are the ones that cannot be obtained by combining others, so they are considered the primary colors. This system is what was used to analyze light, not the properties of pigments, Of each color.

    For the analysis of its pigmentary properties (which made it possible to systematize the colors in inks), another system called CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key) was developed. In this system, the colors which cannot be obtained by mixing the others are blue, yellow and red (the primary colors); with the addition of black as a base pigment. For CMYK, the color purple is a secondary color, emerging from the combination of red and blue. For its part, the color lilac is generated by the combination of purple and white, therefore it is considered one of the many shades of the former.

    How do we perceive lilac?

    In the retina of the human eye, purple and lilac are perceived by the simultaneous excitement of blue and red cones, located in the fovea (in the center of the oriole macula of the eye). These cones act as trichromatic receptors through the optic nerve, which is responsible for communicating color messages to the brain.

    By a wavelength between 380 and 420 nm (which unfolds before exposure with the chromatic stimulus), blue and red lights are generated, which finally allows us to perceive the violet, As well as its different shades.

    The above is one of the descriptions of the color processing mechanisms offered by physiology. However, psychology and anthropology have also told us what certain individual and cultural meanings of colors are. Let’s take a look at a few of them below.

      Meaning of lilac in psychology

      For psychology, color is closely related to emotions. Indeed, after having perceived the chromatic scales through the optic nerve, the rest of our system activates different emotions linked to our personal and socio-cultural experiences with each color.

      For example, for color psychology, cool colors, like blue, are the quintessential colors that convey feelings of tranquility, while warm colors, like red, are those that generate excitement. On its own, as suggested by Eva Heller (2004), each color can change its meaning depending on how it blends with other colors.

      In this sense, the same author proposes that the color lilac has been linked in Western culture to an ambiguous image of cosmetics, vanity and maturity of women. In other shades, purple color can be connected with frivolity and at the same time with originality.

      Additionally, being in one of the lower shades of purple, the color lilac has been associated with tranquility, softness, warmth, moderation and the small impact. It is generally not linked to negative behaviors, on the contrary, it is associated with sensitivity, empathy, kindness, poise and maturity.

      All of the above has served to use colors strategically depending on the sensations and emotions they want to provoke. This has impacted on different spheres, ranging from psychotherapy to architecture and marketing. For example, it was the representative color of Art Nouveau extravagance.

      Cultural significance of lilac

      Colors not only activate emotional perceptions and experiences at the individual level, but can mobilize different social codes depending on how they have been used culturally. Even within the same culture, the meanings of colors and their nuances can vary. For example, in Europe, the color purple implies penance, although the color purple in light tones is related to humility.

      In a similar vein, one of the earliest classifications of color according to its social meanings was made by Goethe, who linked the color purple, morally, to the unnecessary or the profitable. Intellectually, he linked it to the fantasy and the unreal. In terms of social status, he identifies it with artists, and in terms of cultural traditions with spirituality, magic and theology.

      In fact, for the Church, purple and its different shades have symbolized love and truth, always in constant tension with passion and suffering. In fact, these are the colors associated with representative times such as Lent and Advent, which are celebrated before Easter and before Christmas respectively. On the same dates, these colors are used in the habits of the bishops.

      On another side, in South America, the color purple was associated with joy, Because it has been found in abundance in different flowers and crops throughout the year. Finally, in recent times, the color purple has been associated with feminist movements in different parts of the world.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Heller, I. (2004). Psychology of color. How the colors act on the feelings and the reason. Editorial Gustavo Gili: Spain.
      • Llorente, C. (2018). Comparative analysis of chromatic symbolism in advertising. Nike in China and Spain. Vivat Academica. Journal of Communication, 142: 51-78.
      • Parodi Gastañeta, F. (2002). Chromosemiotics. The meaning of color in visual communication. Accessed September 17, 2018.Available at
      • Rivera, MA (2001). Perception and meaning of color in different social groups. Image Magazine, 53: 74-83.

      Leave a Comment