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Color Them Motivated—Colors

Psychological Effects on Students

Steven P. Papadatos

An architect interested in schools offers suggestions on

how color affects student happiness and productivity.

COLORS have profound psychological effects upon employees in

industry, studies have shown. In many cases coordinated color
selections have increased production five to ten percent, have
reduced absenteeism, and have helped the morale of the employees.
In spite of this evidence, little has been done to create effective
coordinated color selections in schools, either elementary or
secondary. Color has a definite psychological impact upon students.
When surroundings are interesting, students will be more inter-
ested in their studies. Their outlook will be brighter when bright
colors surround them. Coordinated color selection can transform
a depressing and monotonous atmosphere into a pleasing and

exciting one, stimulating productivity, reducing absenteeism, and

promoting positive feelings about the school.
For classrooms three colors could be used in an effective coor-
dinated color scheme. The classroom could have an interesting
visual pattern without being distracting. The wall opposite the
windows should be painted in a light tone that would reflect the
suns rays back to the window wall, which would be painted in a
cool medium tone. The front and rear wall should be treated in
light tones in order to compensate for the suns rays.
In existing schools, long corridors can be shortened visually and
can be made interesting by painting the doors and space above in
a bright darker tone, with the wall space between in contrasting

lighter tone.
In cafeterias, lobbies, gymnasiums, and other areas with large
walls, interesting designs can be incorporated in various contrast-
Steven P. Papadatos is an architect in New York City.

ing and complimentary colors. This kind of design should not be

used in areas of study, however, as it may cause students some
difficulty in concentrating. Areas such as drinking fountains and
exits can be emphasized with bright colors and designs, creating
visual focal points in corridors.
In existing schools where the lighting is below standard, high
reflective paint can do wonders, in some cases producing one-third
additional light without remodelling the lighting system. Before
selecting the colors, however, it is imperative to check the areas
with a light meter to determine the footcandles, since light colors
reflect light and dark colors absorb it. It is always a good idea,
especially in older schools, to select colors under the same lighting
conditions that will prevail in the spaces being designed. Colors
look different under the various levels of lighting and different
types of illumination.
Intense tones either will absorb light, such as would be the
case with dark reds, blues, and browns or will reflect light as
would white and yellows. Intense tones, if applied over large areas,
are likely to be depressing and to cause nervousness, restlessness,

eye strain, and fatigue. The advisable alternate is a light neutral

tint and controlled contrasting color used sparingly, thus creating
a far more pleasant atmosphere and a relief from monotony, while

expanding the space visually.

Most school boards acknowledge that their first obligation is to
students, and not to maintenance; but often a preoccupation with
maintenance develops. Maintenance factors should not be dis-
regarded, of course, but it is the architects responsibility to resolve
both considerations without sacrificing either. With the use of a
bright, coordinated color scheme, maintenance will be measurably
reduced because the students will appreciate their new environ-
Since students and teachers alike are greatly affected by their
surroundings, it is important that the idea of coordinated color
selection be presented to school boards. Likewise, school boards
should approach the theory with open minds and avoid the so-
called &dquo;conventional standards&dquo; if they wish to have an outstand-
ing environment.
Various school superintendents in New York City and Con-
necticut, with whom I have discussed my theory of coordinated
color selection, have made the following comments:

&dquo;Bright colored classrooms with modern light furnishings im-

prove the morale of the students.&dquo;
&dquo;There isno doubt that drab, institutionalized, uniform class-
rooms can have a depressing effect. Contrariwise, unique and
individual color schemes can be positive and helpful.&dquo;
&dquo;In some of our new school buildings the use of bright, warm-
colored tiles and painted interiors has added immeasurably to
making the school and class the in place to be. These schools
offer our inner-city children a change of pace from neighborhood
or even tenement surroundings that have a depressant effect.&dquo;

&dquo;It is my belief that those who utilize these kinds of colorful

facilities can be more creative, more productive, and happier.&dquo;
&dquo;I agree completely that a coordinated color selection can
transform a depressing and monotonous atmosphere to a pleasing,
exciting one.&dquo;
&dquo;It has been my experience while in charge of an early childhood
school located in a New York City low-income housing project
to discover how the judicious use of exciting colors dramatically
enhances the learning potential.&dquo;
&dquo;We have found that teachers are much more contented and
students seem better able to adjust to longer lessons in the same
&dquo;Our new schools open-beam, steel-girder ceiling will be
brightly colored to contrast with the neutral floor tile and to
coordinate with the bright but not gaudy color scheme of the
prefabricated steel teacher-storage closet, cabinets, and sink. Each
room has a different color pattern, and the hallways are also

painted in bright colors. Carpeting and curtain areas also add

to a delightful pattern. The atmosphere is cheerful. The children
were at first actually astonished by this buildings difference from
the old, drab school building they attended last year, which has
been abandoned. This is the second elementary school we have
constructed in the past 10 years. In the first one we used a
very attractive color scheme, and it was so successful that we
added even more color in the present school. I agree strongly,
and so do the children, staff, and parents that a well constructed
school should include a bright color scheme throughout the
building so coordinated as to add wherever possible, a note of
cheerfulness, excitement, an urge to want to attend school, and a
pride in keeping the building in tip-top shape.&dquo;