What does the color yellow mean in psychology?

In general, the color yellow is associated with light, gold, happiness, and energy. But where do these relationships between color and a series of objects, elements and even emotions come from? Have the same associations been made in all cultures?

In this article, we’ll take a look at some meanings attributed to the color yellow in different cultures, As well as the main paradigms for describing existing chromatic systems.

    Main ways of describing colors

    When it comes to describing colors, the main color systems fall into two broad categories: 1 describes the luminous properties of each color; and the other defines its pigmentation characteristics.

    The first dates back to the 17th century, when Newton’s studies of the decomposition of light established a spectrum of seven main colors: purple, Indian, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red. Subsequently, a system of colors was established which are those which the human eye has the ability to differentiate, and which are therefore called primary colors. These are yellow, cyan, and magenta, which usually translate to yellow, blue, and red respectively. For their part, the colors resulting from the mixture of the latter are called secondary colors.

    At the same time, the German scientist and novelist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, developed a theory of colors which analyzes the nature and form of representation of each. Therefore, it became possible to assign symbolic meanings to each. In his theory, yellow is associated with the following values ​​and categories:

    • Moral: Well.
    • Intellectual: understood.
    • Status: Scientists.
    • Traditions: lighting and science.

    In addition, yellow is considered a warm tone, which can give warm colors (Those generated by mixing yellow-red, yellow-orange). But at the same time, yellow can give rise to cool colors, as long as it is mixed with the color green.

    In the same vein, far from having an exclusive relationship between yellow and a particular cultural meaning, it is a series of ambiguous meanings that have crossed different cultures.

    Meaning of the color yellow

    Yellow and the different meanings (and even the emotions) it can evoke, have particular characteristics in different cultures. While the psychology of color has studied how color exposure produces a series of physiological reactions, And a specific emotional experience; anthropology has also realized how much colors have been charged with different cultural meanings. At the same time, colors have represented important elements or phenomena for different eras and cultures.

    We will see below the meaning associated with the color yellow in three different cultures.

    1. Western Europe

    For centuries in Western Europe, yellow has been used to mark lives overlooked by Christianity, for example for prostitution, the sick, lepers, heresy, or anyone who does not profess the same religion as the Jews.

    So in the past yellow had been associated with devaluation, Especially in the Middle Ages. He invoked, in this sense, the idea of ​​disturbance and related attitudes.

    Although he was once a symbol of divinity by his relation to the sun, and he subsequently expressed the idea of ​​wealth; soon yellow acquired meanings in the opposite direction: an association with the color of bile, which represents both anger or debauchery, as lie, betrayal and heresy.

      2. Pre-Hispanic cultures

      In pre-Hispanic cultures, such as ancient Mexico, yellow was associated with fire and sun (along with red). Also, the yellow it is linked to one of the four deities that make up the universe, According to the Tarasca worldview: the north of Tiripeme.

      It was also one of the symbols of the interview for its association with corn. In fact, it is one of the four colors associated with the ritual of this culturally very important food. Likewise, yellow was the color associated with stars, and at the same time, it was related to the link between stars and gold. In the same sense, yellow could be a symbol of wealth, but at the same time of death. On the other hand, it could also represent clarity and energy.

      3. Asia

      Two of the main explanatory theories of color symbolism in Asia are Feng Shui and Yin Yang. The first emphasizes its relationship with Taoist philosophy and the consideration of the five elements through which energy circulates. These elements represent the whole environment, including chromatic manifestations. In this sense, yellow would be linked to the earth element, which in turn is representative of a dense and conservative atmosphere, but in also disorder or instability.

      For its part, in Yin Yang, and in its representation of the world through complementary elements; yellow would be associated with Yang for its link with the Sun and heat, in turn associated with masculinity. Finally, and for the same reason, yellow has always been positioned as a representative color in China, although red and green as well.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Llorente, C., García, F. and Soria, V. (2017). Comparative analysis of chromatic symbolism in advertising. Nike in China and Spain. Vivat Academy. Communication magazine. 142, 51-78.
      • Saborío-Bejarano, AG. (2011). The canon of color. Academic record, 48: 43-59.
      • Gómez, Luis (2006). An approach to the theme of color in ancient Mexico. Cuicuilco, 13 (36): 151-175.
      • Gastañeta, P. (2002). Chromosemiotics. The meaning of color in visual communication. 46-58. Accessed September 4, 2018.Available at
      • Sanchez, A. (1999). Color: a symbol of power and social order. Notes for a history of apparitions in Europe. Space, Time and Form, 12: 321-354.

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