Colors are an integral part of our lives. We are surrounded by colors everywhere we go. But have you ever wondered which colors are the most and least common? In this article, we will explore the frequency and distribution of colors in our everyday environments.
Why is color frequency important?
Understanding color frequency and distribution can be useful for many reasons:
- Designers and artists can use popular colors to make their creations more visually appealing.
- Marketers and advertisers can select colors that will grab consumer attention.
- Scientists can gain insight into how the human visual system works by studying color perception.
- Color distribution in nature provides information about plant and animal adaptation and evolution.
In the sections below, we will look at studies that have measured and analyzed the prevalence of different colors in our man-made and natural environments.
What are the most common colors in nature?
The natural world contains a vast diversity of colors. But scientifically studying color frequency in nature poses some challenges:
- There are tens of millions of living species, making comprehensive analysis difficult.
- Color proportions vary based on habitat and location.
- Colors can change seasonally or throughout an organism’s lifespan.
Keeping those caveats in mind, several studies have aimed to quantify the most common colors in nature. Their findings indicate that green and brown hues tend to dominate:
Green dominates the natural world mostly due to plants. Chlorophyll in plants absorbs red and blue light, causing them to primarily reflect green. Brown is also extremely common in nature, contributed by tree trunks, animal furs, soil, rocks, and dead leaves.
Why are green and brown so prevalent in the natural world?
There are several evolutionary reasons why green and brown became so widespread in nature:
- Green pigments are easy to produce – The chemistry of chlorophyll makes it a relatively simple molecule for plants to synthesize.
- Green light penetrates foliage best – Leaves adapted to be green because green light can penetrate the dense canopy better than other colors, fueling photosynthesis deeper in the foliage.
- Brown provides camouflage – Shades of brown, gray, and black help conceal animals against soil, tree bark, and dead leaves, aiding survival.
Other colors like red and yellow require more complex pigments to produce and provide less camouflage. But some animals have evolved striking red, yellow, and blue colors as adaptations for attracting pollinators, signaling toxicity, or other functions.
How are colors distributed in man-made environments?
Unlike the natural world, humans can deliberately choose colors when designing buildings, products, fashions, and other items. How are colors distributed in man-made environments?
In urban settings, a few colors tend to noticeably dominate:
Gray dominates cities due to concrete, asphalt, and other road and building materials. White is also extremely common, from house paint to paper products. Black is contributed by asphalt, car tires, electronics, and oil stains.
How do color preferences influence man-made color frequency?
Unlike the natural world, human color preferences directly impact color frequency in man-made items. Here are some examples:
- Clothing – Blue and black are very common clothing colors. Blue is considered attractive and versatile. Black clothing is slimming and easy to match.
- Cars – White, black, gray, and silver are the top car colors. They are considered safe choices that will appeal to buyers.
- Branding – Red and blue dominate company logos. Red signals excitement and blue seems reliable.
Although personal taste also plays a role, products and branding tend to use “safe” neutral and primary colors with mass appeal.
How do color meanings and associations influence use?
Color meanings and symbolism also influence how often colors are used:
|Love, excitement, danger
|Hearts, stop signs, warnings
|Professional, calm, reliable
|Business suits, social media icons, hypoallergenic products
|Natural, healthy, peaceful
|Organic food, environmental groups, hospital scrubs
|Happiness, optimism, caution
|Smiley faces, playgrounds, traffic signs
Colors with positive associations tend to be used more frequently. Meanwhile, colors with negative associations (like black) may be avoided in some contexts.
How do colors affect human perception and behavior?
Color psychology sheds light on why certain colors are more common than others. Studies show that different colors can evoke different psychological and behavioral responses:
- Blue – Evokes feelings of calmness, security, and comfort. Blue spaces may improve concentration.
- Green – Represents renewal, health, and the natural world. Being around green can reduce stress.
- Yellow – Considered cheerful and uplifting. Yellow grabs attention, but can also cause eyestrain.
- Red – Stimulates excitement, passion, and alertness. Red is eye-catching but can also increase anxiety.
The prevalent use of colors like blue and green may be partly explained by their positive effects. Meanwhile, red is used sparingly because it evokes such strong sensations.
How do gender stereotypes influence color frequency?
Throughout history, certain colors have been strongly associated with masculinity or femininity. This has impacted how often colors appear in contexts related to gender:
- Blue is considered a “masculine” color and is ubiquitous in menswear and products for men.
- Pink is culturally seen as feminine, leading to the pinkification of women’s fashion and accessories.
- Pastels and jewel tones often signify products meant for women versus stark neutrals marketed to men.
As gender norms shift over time, color associations may also change. But gender stereotypes still influence whether colors are viewed as appropriate for certain situations.
Color frequency in our environments results from a complex interplay of evolution, physics, culture, preferences, and psychology. While green and brown dominate the natural world for practical reasons, grayscales and primary colors reign in man-made settings because of their visual appeal, neutrality, and influence on emotions. Color meanings, associations, and gender biases further dictate how often different colors appear.
So next time you take in the colors around you, consider what underlies the prevalence of certain shades. This also gives us insight into how and why humans manipulate color in our constructed environments.