What’s your favorite color? The question is fairly straightforward, and for most people the answer is blue. Likewise, when asked after the least favorite color, answers tend to revolve around the same few colors, usually brown, orange, and yellow. What is not often discussed is that we may be predisposed to avoid those colors.

Venomous creatures often come in strongly contrasting patterns in some variation of red, yellow, orange, or black. Poisonous plants, too, use bold patterns and colors to ward off predators. Their warnings have been so successful that other plants and animals have evolved over the years to mimic their distinctive looks to protect themselves from harm. We use the triangle or diamond shape in much of our cautionary signage. Is it a coincidence that these shapes appear on the backs of certain venomous snakes? Perhaps it’s not too much of a leap to draw the conclusion that we’ve taken a hint from nature in our own collective understanding of how to convey caution in our symbology and color associations.

In my previous post about the color yellow, I pointed out the trend of yellow’s increased popularity. It is now the most purchased paint color globally, yet when people are asked en masse it is listed amongst the least favorite colors. So what’s happening here? It may have something to do with the very clever system used when naming colors. Simply “yellow” is often less preferred than the same color with the name “sun-kissed yellow.” Likewise, the color brown is often given a makeover with the much more delicious sounding “chocolate”. By playing on positive associations it seems we can override our instinctual avoidance of certain colors and patterns and turn a very natural dislike into the favored choice.