The Color Psychology of Black

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Black isn't a primary, secondary, or tertiary color. In fact, black isn't on the color wheel because it isn't considered a color. It's all colors. Or rather, the absorption of all colors. Black absorbs all light in the color spectrum.

According to color psychology, color-related emotion is highly dependent on your personal preference and past experiences with that particular color. The color black is no different. 

color psychology of black
Illustration by Cindy Chung, Verywell

The Psychological Effect of Black

Individual reactions to the color black can vary widely. Some of these responses have cultural associations, but other factors can also play a part. Your own reactions might be shaped by your experiences and personal preferences.

According to German scientist Hermann von Helmholz, "Black is real sensation, even if it is produced by the entire absence of light. The sensation of black is distinctly different from the lack of all sensation."

Positive Associations

The color black is associated with a number of positive qualities and characteristics. For example, some common associations with the color black is associated include:

  • Authority
  • Elegance
  • Formality
  • Intelligence
  • Power
  • Prestige
  • Sophistication

The color is often described as strong and elegant. The color oozes sophistication. That’s why many people don black clothing when attending a fancy event. It’s also why high-end brands like Tiffany & Co. and Chanel utilize black in their logos.

The color black has long been associated with power and prestige. From priests to judges, tuxedos to credit cards.

Negative Associations

However, many use the color black to symbolize all things negative. Throughout history, this somber color has been tied to death and all things evil and bad. It evokes strong feelings of anger, aggression, fear, and sadness.

The connection between black and negativity is probably most clearly seen in our language. Just consider these commonly used expressions: Black Monday. Black Plague. Black magic. Blackball. Blackhole. Black-hearted. Black mood. Black sheep. Blackmail. Black market. Blackout. The list could go on.

And nothing says "bad guy" quite like the color black. Though black is worn (and often preferred) by people from all walks of society, it's often seen as the stereotypical color for criminals and villains. Why do you think the color of choice for villains (think Dracula and Darth Vader) and other shady movie and TV show characters is almost always black?

Cultural Associations

Black is the perfect example of how color meaning can differ from one culture to another. In many western traditions, black is associated with death and mourning, whereas in China the color of death is white.

Color Associations and Racial Attitudes

It is important to recognize that how color is used in language can be linked to racial attitudes, racism, bias, and colorism. In some cultures, the colors white and black are often used to represent good and evil. Consider the meaning and use of terms like blacklist or black sheep, for example.

In a study by Steele and Aronson, they found that when Black students were made to feel that their race was being brought to attention, they underperformed on tests. The threat of being viewed through a racial lens (known as stereotype threat) can result in anxiety and poorer performance.

While language is always evolving and terms often become detached from their origins, it is important to recognize that the way the color black is utilized in everyday language can reflect attitudes and associations that may have racist or colorist origins. 

In one journal article exploring the prevalence of racist language, researchers noted that while many synonyms associated with the word "whiteness" were positive, a significant number of those associated with "blackness" had negative connotations. 

Other studies have found that people tend to have automatic associations between blackness and negativity. Referred to as the "bad is black" heuristic, researchers found that people tend to associate criminal or immoral acts with darker skin tones.

While some may argue that these color associations are no longer relevant, it is important to consider how they may still influence attitudes and behaviors. Colorism, or prejudice and discrimination against people based on their skin tone, has been associated with psychosocial, health, and socioeconomic disadvantages. 

Recap

These studies suggest that how we use color in language can reflect underlying attitudes and beliefs that may be racist or colorist. It is essential to be aware of these associations and to consider how they may impact our interactions with others.

Using the Color Black in Feng Shui

In feng shui, a way of harmonizing your home, office, and other environments, each color represents a feng shui element. Black is associated with the water element and evokes power, mystery, and calm. When it's used sparingly, black has a grounding effect on your environment.

Here are a few tips for using black in feng shui:

  • Consider a black door for doors that face north, east, or southeast.
  • Choose black for your kids' room to bring calm and creativity.
  • If you have a home office in the north part of your house, paint one wall black.
  • Paint the floor black in a room in the north part of your space.
  • Try black and white in your laundry room or kitchen.
  • Try placing black accessories like knick-knacks, frames, or vases around your home.

A Word From Verywell

People's preference for certain colors is based on a whole host of factors, including environment, personality, experience, and upbringing. Pay attention to how the color black makes you feel and consider how some of these factors may shape how you feel and respond to this color.

11 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.