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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF YELLOW
By HAVELOCK ELLIS

THE part played by red as a powerful stimulant in the psychic life is clearly pronounced and fairly uniform among all peoples at all grades of civilization.[1] The special emotional tone of yellow is by no means so easy to define. It varies to a marked extent at different historical periods, in different regions of the globe, even under civilized conditions, at different ages in the same individual. There is no color which is sometimes so exalted in human estimation and sometimes so debased. The psychology of yellow thus presents problems which are peculiarly difficult to unravel.

Among primitive peoples the delight in yellow seems to be almost universal. Red is the favorite color of savages, but—as in the personal decoration with ochre of the tribes of Central Australia, according to Spencer and Gillen—yellow is easily second, and sometimes perhaps on the same level with red. Indeed, it may even at times seem to be preferred to red. Thus in some parts of New Guinea, although the natives are fond of scarlet, they take the trouble to feed a certain parrot having red tail-feathers on a yellow root (for they have no means of dyeing) until the tail feathers turn yellow.[2] As a general rule, when dyes are known, bright yellow, after or with scarlet, is the favorite color, as it was among the Society Islanders. It was so, not only among the savages of the Pacific, but also among our own ancestors, and the primitive German woman used yellow and red ochre to adorn her face and body.[3] The early Europeans seem to have been by no means always careful to distinguish between their two favorite colors of red and yellow; they saw both colors in gold, the most precious material of their adornments; the phrase 'red gold' is almost modern, and the Kirins of the Caucasus, according to Abercrombie, used for gold a word (borrowed from the Tartars), which also means red.

Young children, who are at one with savages at so many points, share their love of yellow, and usually indeed prefer it to red, though some writers, like Scripture, are inclined to account for this as due entirely, as in large measure it doubtless is, to the greater brightness of yellow. As to the reality of the preference among the children of various nations there seems to be little doubt. Preyer's child liked and


  1. Havelock Ellis, 'The Psychology of Red,' Popular Science Monthly, Aug., Sept., 1900.
  2. R. E. Guise, Journal Anthropological Institute, Feb., 1899, p. 214.
  3. G. Buschan, 'Leben und Treiben der Deutscher Frau in der Urzeit,' p. 7.