In July 2021, I was asked to participate in an ABC Radio National discussion with Professor Stephen Westland (Chair of Colour Science and Technology, University of Leeds) and the topic focussed on a potential link between colour and the notions of ‘Dopamine dressing’ and ‘dopamine travel’. Recent trends suggest that colour has the power to lift our spirits. See ABC Radio National link.
Stephen had read my paper on colour psychology (see below) and agreed with me that the interface between colour and human response is not only complex but open to the influence of a range of different factors. We both agreed that colour has the capacity to impact decision-making, behaviour and emotions. However, we are not hard-wired to respond in a uniform, universal way to colour.
We discussed that responses to colour tend to be subjective and individualised rather than universal.
- The search for and focus on brighter more saturated colours tends to be in response to cultural and contextual circumstances – such as the pandemic plus news reports and imagery related to war, floods, etc. Bright, saturated colour can act as an antidote.
- Dopamine dressing often relates to a perceived need to present ourselves in a confident, self-assured way; or as a reaction to wearing black workout clothing during lockdowns; or as a way to assert our creativity – examples include fashion designer Zandra Rhodes; artists and designer Morag Myerscough, Julie Bishop’s bright red shoes when she resigned from Parlt; Sara Danius (Nobel Prize Committee, Literature) who wore bright pink and orange to assert her position, etc.
- Dopamine travelling is akin to seasonal affective disorder whereby we seek places that appear bright and cheerful as a response to the gloominess of winter or the familiarity of our urban colour palette which often features less bright, less saturated colours.
- Ideas about colour, colour affect, and colour symbolism tend to be underpinned by personal beliefs.
- Contextual factors always play a role in how we perceive and respond to colour.
It was a lively discussion and it was great to chat with Stephen again. The interview went to air on 12 July and has been repeated several times since.
Here are some links to articles about dopamine travel and dopamine dressing:
Independent article – What’s the ‘dopamine travel’ trend and could it really perk up burnt-out travellers?
Byrdie article – The Power and Pleasure of Dopamine Dressing
O’Connor, Z. (2011). Colour psychology and colour therapy: Caveat emptor. Color Research and Application, 36 (3), 229-234.