What Is Chromophobia?

  • Cleopatra Chigumba BSc Biomedical Sciences, General, University of Northampton, England

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Introduction

In simple terms, chromophobia is the fear of colours (chromo means colour; phobia means an extreme fear or aversion to something). This fear is associated with a series of reactions that vary between individuals. Most of the reactions are psychological and usually induce panic attacks, anxiety, and general dislike or discomfort towards a particular colour(s). It is important to understand the role colour plays in individuals and societies to ensure individual well-being, cultural appreciation, art, and design, as well as empathy and awareness in communities. For example, colours have an emblematic importance in certain cultures, like green being associated with safety, health, and growth in Western countries and some parts of Africa, and they have a negative essence in Indonesia as they represent exorcism and infidelity. To communicate across cultures effectively and to prevent inadvertent misunderstandings, it is important to understand chromophobia altogether.1

This article focuses on the history of chromophobia, what it is caused by and its cultural aspects. It also dives into the effect chromophobia has on architecture and some ways to overcome the phobia.

Historical background

Chromophobia has roots in a variety of cultures and backgrounds. While some have connected it to religious and cultural beliefs, others have linked it to medical and psychological disorders. Most fear of colours is closely related to how some cultures associate that particular colour with negative meanings or superstitions. Ancient Greece associated mourning and death with the colour black, while in Egypt, yellow was considered sacred because of its relationship with the sun god Ra2.

The colours that are known today were influenced by different cultural and scientific theories. Theories like Goethe’s theory suggested that there was a subjective nature of colour perception in understanding colour. Therefore, not only has it proven difficult to come up with a universal understanding of colour perception, but it also involves other theories that involve its fear. A blend of cultural symbolism and scientific exploration are factors in understanding chromophobia, which makes it a complex idea.3

Chromophobia is a psychological phenomenon

The actual cause of chromophobia is unknown, although it is believed to result from genetic or environmental factors. Most individuals who experience chromophobia have a fear of one specific colour, and it is related to how it makes them feel. 

Additionally, individuals presenting with the following symptoms are at a higher risk of chromophobia: sensory processing disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, history of panic disorder, mental illnesses, mood disorders and substance abuse disorder. Some people who develop chromophobia acquire it from post-traumatic events. Usually, the specific colour that instils intense fear is a reminder of a traumatic past or event that has occurred that was distressing. For example, some individuals are afraid of the colour red usually from its association with blood and one could have been involved in a car crash that resulted in some form of bleeding hence the fear.4

Symptoms of chromophobia vary between individuals mostly because of how one perceives colour or associates the colour. Upon having a conversation with an individual who had chromophobia as an additional factor to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and who has a fear of the colour purple and green, some light was shed on understanding some of the symptoms. She described chromophobia symptoms as follows:

‘’Whenever I see purple (or green), my heart grows 4 times larger than my body, and I fail to breathe. It is like an overstimulation of my brain, and I feel very claustrophobic. I know it is just an irrational fear, and colour will not hurt me anyhow; however, subconsciously, I feel like I am dying, and my body reacts that way’’.

This reaction described above is not trauma-related and more of an overstimulation to the brain. It is these grey areas that scientific research needs to dive into to better understand what it is about a specific colour that causes overstimulation, especially in individuals presenting with mental health disorders.2

Some other symptoms of chromophobia, which are true to most phobias, are dizziness and shaking. hyperhidrosis (extreme sweating), nausea and indigestion. Some individuals even go on to develop agoraphobia, which is a fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult, or help wouldn’t be available if things go wrong.5

Overcoming chromophobia

Diagnosis of chromophobia is based on a mental health evaluation done by health professionals. Once there is a diagnosis, possible treatment options are introduced. According to the NHS, the main types of treatments involved are self-help techniques, talking techniques and medication.

Self-help techniques incorporate the gradual increase one is in contact with the colour they have a phobia for. One can do some breathing and meditation exercises to help when they feel anxious whenever there are some interactions with the colour.

The most effective therapy for chromophobia is counselling, particularly cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT does involve exposure therapy, too. It helps with managing the fear of colour by changing the way one thinks and behaves towards the colour(s). Usually, as treatments progress, individuals feel less anxious about the colour.6

Medications are not the first choice of treatment, but they can help with treating symptoms like panic attacks, anxiety, and depression. An example of anti-depressants that can be prescribed is Cipralex (escitalopram). Cipralex inhibits the reuptake of serotonin. Serotonin is basically a hormone that regulates mood. Too much of it results in symptoms like nervousness, tremors and even agitation, which are symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks seen in chromophobia patients. Antidepressants like these do come with side effects, and one of the effects is the risk of bleeding, and this risk is highly significant in patients with underlying bleeding disorders.7

Likewise, tranquilisers such as diazepam can be used on a short-term basis to treat anxiety and panic attacks when interaction with colour occurs. Most of these medications should be stopped gradually to avoid withdrawal symptoms and unnecessary side effects.6,7

Cultural and social aspects

As mentioned in the introduction, different cultures have different symbolisms for specific colours; therefore, some fear of particular colours is rooted hereditarily. Currently, Chinese culture associates white with funerals and red with luck, whereas some African societies, like Zimbabwe, use white to represent peace and red, blood shed during war. Western countries associate white with purity.  These symbolic differences appear controversial. Due to the fact that colour has an emblematic significance in societies (negative or positive), the only way to overcome chromophobia in these scenarios is by being aware and respectful of the different communities and societies and encouraging inclusiveness, especially in global art and design events.

Chromophobia in architecture and urban planning

In both practical and aesthetic ways, colour is significant in architecture. It has an impact on how people perceive and interact with architectural spaces, provides cultural and symbolic standards, and contributes to the overall arrangement and use of buildings and structures.

Chromophobia is not always an undesirable trait when it comes to architecture. The movement that results in minimalist architecture is defined by its simplicity and use of subtle colours. This results from a fear of overwhelming other people, and it's a terrific technique for managing individuals with chromophobia, especially those who have a fear of bright colours. Additionally, minimalism in architecture generates cultural standards and a sense of serenity in people's minds and offers a timeless design. The ultimate goal of colour in architecture is to suit the intended use of the space and satisfy the preferences of those who use it.8

Summary

  • Chromophobia is an irrational fear of colour(s)
  • Certain groups of individuals are at a higher risk of developing chromophobia, and these include autism patients.
  • The main forms of treatment for chromophobia are self-help techniques, counselling, and medication.
  • It is important to note that various medication is associated with side effects and may cause withdrawal symptoms if it’s not regulated.
  • There is still a lot of scientific research that should be performed to better understand colour and its association with how the body reacts to chromophobia.
  • Chromophobia is not just related to mental disorders but can be passed on to generation based on cultural symbolism of colour.
  • Chromophobia is also not always a negative as it is nowadays involved in architectural designs to provide serine and timeless environments.
  • A more colour-inclusive society should be encouraged regularly, and awareness of symbolic colours for different cultures respected.

References

  1. Oxford English Dictionary
  2. The Creator God of Ancient Egypt: https://arce.org/resource/ra-creator-god-ancient-egypt/
  3. Goethe, J. W. von (2014) Goethe’s Theory of colours: translated from the German, with notes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  4. Clinic, C. (2022, March 03). Chromophobia (Fear of Colors). Retrieved from Cleveland Clinic: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22580-chromophobia-fear-of-colors
  5. NHS. (2022, October 31). Overview: Agoraphobia. Retrieved from NHS: https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/agoraphobia/overview/
  6. NHS. (2022, July 27). Treatment- Phobias. Retrieved from NHS: https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/phobias/treatment/
  7. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) British National Formulary (BNF). Retrieved from NICE: https://bnf.nice.org.uk/drugs/escitalopram/
  8. Puisis, E. (2022, April 11). What is Minimalist Architecture? Retrieved from the Spruce Make your best home: https://www.thespruce.com/what-is-minimalist-architecture-5224419

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Cleopatra Chigumba

BSc Biomedical Sciences, General, University of Northampton, England

Cleopatra Chigumba is a highly motivated and academically accomplished individual from. She recently completed her Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Biomedical Science with a First Class degree from the University of Northampton.

Her academic achievements include certificates for the "Best Dissertation Presentation in Life Sciences" and the "Changemaker Gold Employability Award." Cleopatra's education has equipped her with skills in medical microbiology, clinical biochemistry, statistics, haematology, good lab practice, medical genetics, anatomy, and pharmacology.

Furthermore, she holds the IBM Data Science Certificate, which signifies her proficiency in Python programming, data science, data analysis, model selection, and AI. She has gained valuable hospital work experience, enhancing her patient care, teamwork, communication, adaptability, networking, and leadership skills.

Overall, she is a well-rounded individual with a strong educational background and diverse skills in biomedical science, healthcare writing, marketing, and international relations, making her a valuable asset in various professional settings.

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