Psychology of Colour in Sports

See the picture below.

White Space
White Space: What does the blankness make you feel?

What do you feel? Well, yes, there’s nothing there but you felt something, right? It’s the feeling of nothingness.

Ok, now on a more serious note.

Red Splatters of Colour
Red Splatters of Colour

What do you feel? You wouldn’t be wrong in surmising that It is blood. It actually is ketchup, though.  But again, it did make you feel something, right?

Just to drive the point home – one more.

Blue Mountains
Blue Mountains: Serenity

What do you feel? A feel of serene calmness, right? I am obviously conjecturing here and in no way judging you folks who can see two bunnies out there. Maybe, the Rorschach test would be more appropriate for you, though. 

Well, what you just might have experienced were a range of emotions. Maybe emptiness, maybe disgust, maybe calmness – all these are induced by colour. Come to think of it, if the second picture were blue would your emotions still be heightened? No. Maybe that is why the sanitary pad ads always show blood in blue. They don’t want their customers to get their heart pumping. 

Colour In Sports:

It’s logical to have coloured attire in a sports contest. How would you differentiate a friend from a foe? In a fast-paced game like football, there is no time to look at faces. It’s the colour of the tee that makes a player trust someone and pass the ball. Except in a cricket test match where everyone wears white. But unlike other games cricket doesn’t have all the players of both teams on the field at a time. So, we can excuse them for now. But what if I were to tell you that colour goes beyond just identification of a teammate and can actually affect the outcome of a game. It can in some games and it cannot in other games like cricket. (We should excuse cricket from the colour games). It is also to be noted that a skilled team will always overpower the weaker one irrespective of colours. 

Let’s try and understand how different colours might affect a player’s psyche on the field. 

WHITE:

White is the most widely used secondary colour in sports. It represents purity, perfection, virginity (maybe someone should start a petition to rename white to Salman Khan), and everything that is not related to the sports team. So why is it used for team representation? To understand the rationale, let’s take the example of the Indian cricket team. What does the team represent on the field? The game expertise, the game itself, the fans maybe. But there’s a much greater factor the team represents. It’s the country – something grander than the players themselves. And which country doesn’t want to project themselves as pure and pious irrespective of how depraved they are? This is why most countries have white on their flag – 72.92% of global flags have it.

RED:

Red is an aggressive colour. Multiple studies have proven that the colour red is associated with winners if the game needs aggression. The winning streak is seen across genders. Let’s take the example of two wrestlers at the Olympics – both with similar skillset and physical prowess.  The only difference between them is the colour of their attire. Essentially, when conditions of ceteris paribus are achieved, according to a study conducted by officials at the 2004 Olympics, the person wearing red would have a higher chance of winning. By at least 5%. This minute change is enough for any wrestler to win the game. A paper published by Barton Robert and Russell Hill in 2005 supports the phenomenon. Maybe it is deep-rooted in our rudimentary caveman brain. In nature, the colour red signifies danger. But, it has also been associated with romance for ages. Shouldn’t it then make the opposition team fall in love with you?  One school of thought suggests that it is not the colour, but the person donning it that needs to be focused on. For centuries, red has been associated with aggression and anger, and when someone who is already aggressive dons it, they feel more powerful. Maybe the famous Stanford Prison Experiment can answer this question. 

BLUE:

Blue represents calmness. But, just like the colour red, does it really make us calm? Or, have we internalised it as a representation of calmness because of the association. Furthering the duality of colours, the colour blue apart from being associated with calmness also represents speed. Now, speed is anything but calm. Unless you’re Lewis Hamilton. In fact, countries like Norway and Germany have changed their ice skaters’ jerseys to blue recently because statistically, it’s the fastest colour. For a scientific mind, it should not make sense but for our monkey brain, it does work in mysterious ways.

BLACK:

The colour black has been studied extensively for ages. The colour which has been used as a tool of oppression for ages still has the same connotations as it used to. A study from 2012 concluded that teams who wear black jerseys are more aggressive. Well, shouldn’t that be the red one? Yeah, the red one is aggressive but more penalties are issued to the ones wearing black. This is supported by huge statistical figures going back to the 70s. Recent statistical data, however, have shown different results. Consider the following chart – it is of association between final world cup matches and colour of jerseys the teams wore. 

So it seems the colour black is a sure way to win. Almost all matches played by the team wearing black have resulted in a win for them. But, this definitely is skewed statistics. You see, the sample size for black is minuscule as compared to other colours. Only recently have teams started wearing black, maybe because we have stated accepting the colour more and disassociating it with its negative associations. So, we don’t really have enough data to determine causation between black and winning.  

So, what’s the fuss about colours? 

It seems different colours in sports do affect emotions. But, not because the human brain is hardwired towards it. It’s more to do with the colour’s association in culture. For example, in China red represents luck. In India red indicates purity which in turn is represented by white in the western world. Taking advantage of the association with colours Norwich Football Club painted the away dressing at their stadium room pink.  The reason – pink is supposed to lower testosterone levels and have a calming effect. You would definitely want your opposition team in a men’s football game to have lower testosterone levels. That’s a no brainer. Does it work, though? Dr. Alexander Latinjak, a lecturer in sport psychology at the University of Suffolk says pink has an effect, not because it is pink, but because it’s linked to childhood experiences. So, the question remains. Does the colour of the jersey – for whatever reasons – affect the outcome of the game? Or is it just another clever ruse from marketers? 

 

One thought on “Psychology of Colour in Sports

  • November 5, 2020 at 2:06 pm
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    Beautifully articulated

    Reply

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