Colour and its Role in the Australian Mass-Media Discourse

© The Editorial Council and Editorial Board of Linguistic Studies

Linguistic Studies
Volume 36, 2018, pp.  77-84

Colour and its Role in the Australian Mass-Media Discourse

Rogach Yulia

Article first published online: December 15, 2018 

Additional information

 Author Information: 

Rogach Yulia, post-graduate student of the Conversational English Department of the Lesya Ukrainka Eastern European National University in Lutsk, Master of Applied Linguistics. Correspondence:

Rogach, Yu. Colour and its Role in the Australian Mass-Media Discourse [Text] // Linhvistychni Studiyi / Linguistic Studies : collection of scientific papers / Vasyl' Stus 
Donetsk National University; Ed. by Anatoliy Zahnitko. Vinnytsia : Vasyl' Stus DonNU, 2018. Vol. 36. Pp. 77-84. ISBN 966-7277-88-7


Publication History:

Volume first published online: December 15, 2018
Article received: November 15, 2018, accepted: November 30, 2018 and first published online: December 15, 2018


У статті розглянуто основні існуючі теорії кольору, запропоновані науковцями природничих та гуманітрних сфер, простежено вплив кольору на фізичну, психологічну та вербальну поведінку людей, визначено семантику та граматику кольору в сучасній полікодовій комунікації. Особливу увагу звернуто на метафоричність та варіативність кольору, його культурозначимість і значення у рекламних повідомленнях австралійського масмедійного дискурсу, а також окреслено національно-культурні преференції австралійського соціуму.

Keywords: colour and its theories, physical and psychological impact, multimodal communication, conceptual metaphor, advertisement, Australian mass-media discourse.



Yulia Rogach

Department of Conversational English,

Lesya Ukrainka Eastern European National University, Lutsk


Background: The study of colour as a semiotic sign and its influence on human beings has been popular and acute for many years. Colour is not just an unseparable part of human communication but is widely used in present day mass-media discourse which is highly manipulative and multimodal.

Purpose: The purpose of the article is to analyse the role of colours in human communication, to find out their inluence on various senses of human beings, to differentiate the impact of colours and their hues on human psyche and physical behaviour.

Results: Colour has played a very important role in many spheres of human excistence, that is why it became a very significant means of appealing to human brain, receptors and feelings. Scholars, scientists, educators, advertizers, marketeers, and copywriters have been analysing the role of colours and their potentials in such areas of human behaviour which imply and require modifications or manipulations. Colours have their meanings that are internationally understood (e.g. white is a colour of purity, red is a colour of romantisism, passion, power and aggression) but they may be culturally marked, symbolic, and polysemantic. At the same time colours have their grammar which enables them to combine with one another and other semiotic signs, including the verbal ones in order to achieve the communicative intentions of copywriters and interlocutors.

Discussion: Modern Australian mass-media advertisements are designed as a multimodal information patterns the purpose of which is to inform, entertain and modify human beings, their verbal and physical behaviour.

Keywords: colour and its theories, physical and psychological impact, multimodal communication, conceptual metaphor, advertisement, Australian mass-media discourse.


Yulia Rogach, post-graduate student of the Conversational English Department of the Lesya Ukrainka Eastern European National University in Lutsk, Master of Applied Linguistics. Areas of research interests include multimodal communication, visualization of communicationa, mass-media and advertizing discourse.



Yulia Rogach   

DOI 10.31558/1815-3070.2018.36.12

УДК 811.111(94)’42:7.017.4




   У статті розглянуто основні існуючі теорії кольору, запропоновані науковцями природничих та гуманітрних сфер, простежено вплив кольору на фізичну, психологічну та вербальну поведінку людей, визначено семантику та граматику кольору в сучасній полікодовій комунікації. Особливу увагу звернуто на метафоричність та варіативність кольору, його культурозначимість і значення у рекламних повідомленнях австралійського масмедійного дискурсу, а також окреслено національно-культурні преференції австралійського соціуму.

Ключові слова: колір і теорії кольору, фізичний та психологічний вплив, полікодова комунікація, «концептуальна» метафора кольору, реклама, австралійський мас-медійний дискурс.                                                           


Formulation of the research problem and its significance. The importance of colour in the life of human beings can hardly be denied as with the help of colour stectrum and its hues communicators can convey different meanings and senses. For a long time in human history colour has been used as a powerful tool of influencing human sensors and receptors. At the time of multimodal communcation colour has become one of the frequently applied modes of sending different data and modifying human physical and verbal behaviour. That is why the topic of the article is acute and relevant to the main trends in modern linguistic reseaches, especially in the field of mass-media and advertising discourses.

The goal and the specific tasks of the article. The goal of the article is to analyse the main theories of colour, its semantics and grammar, its metaphorical, symbolic and cultural senses, and its application in the advertisements of the mass-media discourse of Australia.

Analysis of the research into this problem. Scholars and scentists have been much interested in the studies of colours, their influence on human senses and modelling of human physical and verbal behaviour for a long time. Among such scientists famous names can be mentioned M. Liusher, O. Havrylenko, V. Bekhterev, P. Symonov, S. Isajchev, V. Kucherenko, A. Elliot, M. Maier, A. Moller, R. Friedman, J. Meinhardt among others. The theory of colours having a psychological influence appeared at when J. Goethe introduced his “Theory of colour” (1810) in which he combined colour categories (e.g. red-yellow) with emotional reactions (warmth, adoration). J. Goethe divided colours into two types: positive (yellow, orange, and red) that create active and cheerful moods and negative (blue, red-blue) that cause anxiety and a gloomy mood. The green colour was classified as neutral. He also pointed out two types of influence of colours: physiological (on the body) and psychological (spirit, mood and emotions). This theory gives a wider picture of colours and their role in the life of human beings, attempting to explain how colours work and what impact they have on people.

Another famous scientist K. Goldstein (1942) (Goldstein) proposed that different colours provoke different physiological responses which means that colors could direct people’s focus and attention. Goldstein extended Geothe’s theory of colour and assumed that certain colours provoke systematic psychological reactions that are manifested in different emotional revelations (negative agitation), cognitive orientation (external focus) and open actions (determined behaviour). As a result of this theory, J. Nakashian (1964) (Nakashian) and  A. Crowley (Crowley) concentrated their research on the length of colour waves, concluding that longer waves cause warm and pleasant feelings while the shorter ones arouse cold and relaxing emotions.

S. Hachkalo pays attention to the fact that for a vegetative nervous system (VNS) colour is, first of all, a quantity of energy that comes to the body from the external world. While for the central nervous system (CNS), colour is information bits about the surrounding world. Due to certain functions of the CNS a person shapes his/her perceptions of colour and an integrative activity of the CNS provides colour perception and more complicated forms of information processing. The influence of colour on the CNS is defined by the activity of a colour analyzer (a specific informational channel) and the VNS (a nonspecific energetical channel) (Hachkalo).

Statement regarding the basic material of the research and the justification of the results. Colour and light have a very powerful impact on the formation of the psychophysiological status of a human organism. This impact is, first of all, mediated by the activity of the vegetative nervous system, its sympatic and parasympatic parts. Famous Russian physiologist S. V. Kravkov (Kravkov) conducted a series of experiments the purpose of which was to establish a connection between colourful visions and other perceptive organs of human beings. The results of the experiments proved that there is an interdependence between a colourful vision and a vegetative nervous system and the hypothalamus which plays an integral role in the activity of the physiological and psychological functions of a human body. S. Kravkov pointed out that colour differentiation is a source of esthetic emotions and their combinations cause different effects on human beings. That is why it is very important to understand the role of colour and colour vision in cognitive activities of people (Kravkov).

According to A. Elliot, colour perception is not only a function of lightness, chroma, and hue, but also of factors such as viewing distance and angle, amount and type of ambient light, and presence of other colours in the immediate background and general environmental surrounds (Elliot).

M. Frank and T. Gilovich (1988) believed that colour has an environmental processing cue: external affective cues can directly affect processing strategy without affecting mood (Frank,  Gilovich). They conduced a conceptual study of colour and analyzed its influence on human senses and a person’s emotional state, having concentrated their attention on general associations that people experience. The scholars pointed out that various colours cause different emotions on the consciousness level and on the level of physical behaviour. For example,  black provokes aggressive actions or reactions while greens, on the contrary, calms people down. P. Sorokowski points out that colours are very meaningful in sports, that is why a colour scheme and colour choice of sports uniform are very important. Knowing about a very powerful impact of the red colour many sportsmen wear uniforms that are red or contain red spots (Sorokowski, Szmajke).

S. Hachkalo believes that among all forms of nonverbal communication colour is the quickest way of conveying meanings and feelings. Before people learned to appeciate the esthetics of colour there had been more practical ways of using it.  Our very survival depends on our ability to identifiy certain objects or warning sygnals where colour is an unseperable part of the identification process. Besides that, colour stimulates the interaction of feelings, symbolizes abstract notions and thoughts, expresses fantasies or wishes, reminds of another time or place of an event and produces esthetic or emotional reactions. A big part of a human reaction to a colour is on a subconscious level and a person usually does not know about a convincing effect of a colour – a psychological one that takes place immediately (Hachkalo).

R. Barton та R. Hill (2005) believed that red enhances human performance in different life situations. The scholars noted that most animals including primates, show their dominance especially in aggressive situations using red colour. It is done with the help of blood that can be seen through the skin. People, for example, have similar reactions – a high testosterone level provokes redness of the skin on the face, whilst fear causes pale tones of the face. Barton and Hill think that if we draw parallels between animals and humans, we can conclude that such psychological effects can be noticed in artificially created situations and settings, for example, the red colour of uniform shirts can demonstrate dominance and lead to advantage and even victory (Barton, Hill).

A. Elliott та M. Maier (2012) (Elliot, Maier) suggested a new theory that is calledcolour-in-context theory”. According to this theory, colour depends upon the situation in which social knowledge and biological factors are included. The scholars believe that parts of our reactions depend upon grouping of colours and certain concepts, as well as messages and experience. Other reactions represent biologically set predispositions that have formed and emphasize with the help of social experience and knowledge. Through social education and experience, colour associations can go beyond natural body processes and be moved onto the objects that are close to body, for example, accessories and clothing. That’s why, for example, red can make a person more attractive if it is on a person’s face or as part of their clothing. The name of the theory explaines that physical and psychological contexts, through which the colour is interpreted, predistinguish its meaning as well as the reaction that we have towards it. For example, blue colour on the medal ribbon means something positive (first price in a competition), whereas blue on meat has a negative connotation (meat is not fresh). The red colour, for example, means attraction towards a potential partner (red symbolizes romance, passion and relationships) whereas when it is used to mark someones competence, it can mean a bad mark or danger.

The following examples that are taken from The Cairns Weekend Post, can vindicate the “colour-in-context” theory:

(The Cairns Weekend Post, 7 Feb, 2015)

The above advertisement offers a romantic gataway for two people to celebrate  Valentines Day. The red colour symbolizes love, attraction and deep feelings. Besides that one can notice the usage of two pictograms of hearts and two palm trees that are pictured on the sunset, as well as red roses that strengthen the romantic atmosphere and the importance of the event. The red colour performs two functions here: it attracts attention about the special offer; and emphasizes the message through symbols of love and passion = red colour.

The second visual add contains certain elements that confirm the notions mentioned above.

      (The Cairns Weekend Post, 7 Feb, 2015)

This advertisement contains the usage of the red colour that represents romance and appealing to the feeling of love. The text is written with blue and red colours. The actual phrase “Valentine’s Day” is written with the red colour as well as the price, information about champagne (Bubbles on arrival – a phrase widely used in Australian English), time and date. The big heart is in red and emphasizes the message, it also implies that the evening will be special and romantic.

This third example of a newspaper advertisement demonstrates a completely different meaning of the red colour:

(The Cairns Weekend Post, 26 Jan, 2013)

In this instance, red colour is used to attract readers’ attention in order to warn them. The following advertisement talks about a specific model of childrens shoes, that are believed to be hazardous to kids health and safety and can cause choking. The red and white frame that is made out of broken line, is used to warn and to inform because red on a subconscious level means danger.

Another theory has been developed by Meier and Robinson (2005) (Meier, Robinson). They dedicated their scientific research to the “conceptual metaphor” of colour. According to their theory, people think and talk about abstract concepts with the help of specific terms. These terms are based on people’s perceptive experiences and they help people to understand and conceptualize the world.  For example, anger causes  redness of the face and thats why anger can be verbally metaphorized with the help of an idiom to see red. Positive emotions and experience are very often described through the idea of light, rather than darkness. That’s why, metaphorically, light is connected with something good and positive - to see the light at the end of the tunnel, whereas darkness is associated with negative events and emotions. Such metaphorical associations can be seen as the basis to form important conclusions about moral ideas (for example, which things are considered to be pure and clean), prejudice, stereotypes or expectations (for example, dark things have negative implications).

The next example of an advertisement for skin laser treatment, has the heading written in white, which can implicate the medical power of light.

(The Cairns Weekend Post, 7 Feb , 2015)

By using the white colour, the advertisement attracts the attention of potential clients as well as emphasizes the purity of results. White colour makes the positive effect stronger. And because, it is the advertisement of the medical institution, one can talk about the healing power of light. So, white/light colour has very positive connotation and creates the atmosphere of trust and professionalism. It is also associated with cleanliness and implies a nice clean surgery.

N. Denysenko indicates that modern medicine proclaims that certain colours of the solar spectrum have certain biological effects on people (Denysenko).  Colours are devided into two groups: active and passive in which white, grey and black colours are passive, while a red colour and its shades as well as orange are active colours. Unlike the passive, active colours improve biological processes intensify physical and mental activities. There are more active than passive colours and they differ in three different properties: tone, intensity and shade (Fairchild). Up until now, the ways in which these three factors interact as well as analysis of the different shades, has not had a lot of attention and needs to be further studied.

Famous Russian scientist and neuropathologist V. Behterev studied colour feelings and the speed of phycological processes. He found out that the rays which are closer to the warm side of the spectrum have a positive effect on people as well as healing powers. Among such colours he singled out red. He thought that yellow does not have any clearly identified effects on people’s bodies, green slows down the biological processes and purple oppresses them (Behterev).

It is important to mention that the same colour can have different perceptions in different countries and cultures. Culture distinguishes how people treat a certain colour and these attitudes have been formed over many centuries. T. Dubynetz considers that we prefer certain colours depending upon our age, gender, education, culture and character. That’s why the colours that we choose can characterize us, or whether we have certain problems or issues in our life including what emptional state we are in (Dudynetz).

Contrary to the generally accepted belief that culture, gender and age, effect our choice of a colour as well as how we perceive and interpret it, there is a completely different idea that has been suggested by a British scientist Angela Wright. She has been studying colour since the 1970s. In 2003-2004, she and her colleagues conducted a number of studies. The representatives of 6 different cultures and 5 European countries – The Great Britain, France, German, Spain and Sweden, as well as Chinese who live the UK, participated in the research. The group consisted of men and women aged from 18 to 77.  As a result of the studies, it was found that 92% of the participants had the same answers/reactions about colour, which proved that age, gender and culture do not effect our perception of colour (Wright). However, this study odjects the national symbolism of colour, individual preferences and likes as well as correlation of age, gender and selection of colour.

The following visual add, taken from the newspaper The Currier Mail, represents a chain of stores that sell house hold equipment.

(The Currier Mail, 25 Jan, 2013)

While creating this advertisement, the copywriters used the colours of the Australian national flag – blue, white and red and, and the picture of the flag itself. In the upper right corner of the advertisement, in the red rectangular box against the background of the national flag there is a patriotic verbal message proudly Australian since 1952, in which the word proudly is emphasized with the help of bold letters. The name of the store – The Good Guys – is written in white and points out that the owners are responsible people and provide high quality services. In the bottom of the advertisement the red colour attracts the attention of the customers to the “second mile” service of the store – delivery and installation. Besides that, all other special prepositions are depicted on the pictograms of black and yellow road signs that are shown on the screens of TVs. The combination of yellow and black is typical for Australia and is used on road signs to warn about, for example, speed limits, school zones or kangaroos’ crossings. In the analyzed advertisement the road signs are shown on the Australian typical red soil. Another verbal part of the advertisement – famous ripper deals – is a slang phrase that is used to convey the meaning of something that will be very useful, effective and will bring positive emotions in the future. The colour scheme of the advertisement reflects the national colours of Australia and appeals to the senses and emotions of the customers encouraging them to pay attention to the deal and buy what is promoted.

The next picture represents an advertisement taken from the newspaper The Herald Sun and is devoted to the holiday discounts at the store The Dick Smith that sells household equipment.

(The Herald Sun, 26 Jan, 2013)

The usage of the red and yellow colours that are considered to be the colours that stimulate and attract people’s attention helps to realize the commercial intentions of copywriters and sellers. The main message about the discounts – smashing prices – is written in big black letters against a yellow background which stirs customers’ emotions and encourages them to buy the promoted products. Additional information about the discounts is given in big black numbers while the data about the duration of the action and the fact that it is devoted to the Australia Day are presented with the help of a pictogram of an explosion with the Australian national flag in its epicenter.  The next advertisement is taken from the newspaper The Cairns Post.

(The Cairns Post, 26 Jan, 2013)

This advertisement is multicoloured though the prevailing colours are blue, red and white as it is devoted to the Australia Day. The advertisement deals with the promotions from the club RSL (Returned and Services League of Australia), and several national symbols have been used in it: a continent, coloured as a national flag, a national flag used as a background for the typical representatives of the Australian flora and fauna: emu, kangaroo, wombat, platypus, and common brushtail possum.

The following advertisement is also taken from the newspaper The Cairns Post and is done in typical Australian colours – red, blue and white.

(The Cairns Post, 26 Jan, 2013)

The advertisement is also devoted to Australia Day and calls people to check their knowledge about Australia. The visual part contains the popular Australian shoes - rubber thongs, that are placed in such a way that they imitate an onward movement. In the verbal part, written in red, there is an ethnic name Aus, that is a clipping of the name Australia which is widely used by the Australians.

The given examples show that with the help of different modes – a correctly chosen colour scheme, visual images and the relevant verbal messages copywriters are able to appeal to the main senses of customers making or motivating them to modify their verbal or physical behaviour and buy or do what is promoted. The application of national colours intensifies the patriotic feelings and makes the advertisements more important and understandable.

Conclusions and prospects for further research. There are different theories for colour that have been developing during time. But they all agree that colour has an undiniable affect on humans as well as animals and very often this affect is unconscious. Colour effects our feelings, our pshysical and emotional state as well as our intelectual level. Colour properties and effects have been actively used in almost all of the areas of our lives. Especially, this has been used in multimodal advertising every day and our article shows only a couple of examples of such usage. But there are still lots of unknown aspects about the colour that need to be learned and explained.


Crowley, Ayn. “The two dimensional impact of color on shopping. Marketing Letters 4 (1993): 59–69. Print.

Denysenko, Natalia. “Kolir u nashomu zhytti” (Colour in our Life). Doshkilne Vyhovannia (Preschool Education) 11 (2006) : 16–18. Print.  

Dudynets, Tamara. “Psyhologichnyi vplyv kolioru na rozvytok osobystosti” (Psychological Influence of Colour on our Lives). Visnyk Psyhologichni nauky (Psychological Studies Herald) 10.  (2007) : 2734. Print.

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Frank, Muth, and Gilovich Thomas. The dark side of self and social perception: black uniforms and aggression in professional sports. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 54(1) (1988): 74–85 Print.

Hachkalo, Svitlana. “Vplyv kolioriv na psyhoemotsiinyi stan liudyny” (Impact of Colour on the Psychoemotional State of a Person). Web. 21 Nov. 2018.

Hill, Russel, and Barton, Robert. Red enhances human performance in contestsInternational Journal of Science 435 (2005) : 293. Print.

Goethe, Wolfgang. (1810) Theory of Colors. Translated by  C.L. Eastlake. United States: Cambridge, Mass. (1970) : Print.  

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Meier, Brian, and Robinson, Michael. The metaphorical representation of affectMetaphor  and Symbol. 20 (2005) : 239–257. Print.

Nakshian, Jacob. The effects of red and green surroundings on behavior. The Journal of General Psychology 70 (1964) : 143–162. Print.

Sorokowski, Piotr, Szmajke, Andrzej. How does the “red wins” effect work? The role of sportswear colour during sport competitions. Human Movement 12 (4). University of Wroclaw (2007) : 367373. Print.

Wittgenstein, Liudvig.”Kultyra i tsennost” (Culture and Value). Translated by L. Dobroselkiy. Moskva: Astrel (2010). Print.

Wright Angela. Colour Affects. Web. 25 Nov. 2018.

List of Sources

The Cairns Post, 26 Jan, 2013.

The Cairns Weekend Post, 7 Feb, 2015.

The Currier Mail, 25 Jan, 2013.

The Herald Sun, 26 Jan, 2013.


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