The Many Meanings of Yellow


The meanings of yellow can be very contradictory. Everyone you ask will have a strong opinion about it. Yellow is one of those colors that you either love or hate.

For some, yellow gives them a happy, uplifting feeling. For others, yellow gives them a headache, quite literally especially the more intense hues.

Yellow is one of the three Primary Colors. Keep in mind the color psychology will change with the intensity of the tint, tone or shadeof yellow. Altering the Yellow by mixing in other colors will create subtle changes which can make a big difference to how people react.

For example, color schemes made up of pale, creamy and toned-down monochromatic yellows would likely create a warming, happy atmosphere. However too much of intense primary yellowsmight be perceived as annoying.

Yellow is the lightest and brightest color on the Basic Color Wheel and in the full spectrum of light. Even some blind people can detect yellow. This is why it’s often used for ambulances and emergency vehicles.

No matter how much pure pigment Yellow contains, it will never be darker than any of the other colors on the Color Wheel unless you add gray or brown. This golden lightness often makes people think of Yellow and its color symbolism as a spiritual color. It’s also used often by artists to create a sense of luminosity.

In my paint swatches above you can see how the Primary Yellow can be varied by adding other pigments. Each one of these swatches is still called Yellow even though they’ve been altered quite a bit.

Color psychology is so complex, that each one of these swatches would create a completely different reaction. Remember that the meanings of yellow or any other color are cultural and psychological. It’s not an exact science but interesting all the same.

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Positive Meanings of Yellow

  • Spirituality, Enlightenment
  • Luminosity, Sunlight
  • Cheerfulness, Happiness
  • Optimism, Hope
  • Energy, Intuition
  • Manifestation, Opportunity
  • Alertness, Awareness
  • Wisdom, Intelligence

Negative Meanings of Yellow

  • Cowardice
  • Deceit, Betrayal
  • Jaundice, Illness
  • Faithlessness, Unrequited Love
  • Hazard, Emergency

Meanings of Yellow in Other Cultures

  • In Japan Yellow means Courage and Nobility
  • In Islam Yellow means Wisdom
  • Hindus consider Yellow a Sacred color
  • Buddhist monks wear Saffron Yellow robes
  • In many Middle East countries Yellow represents Golden Prosperity
  • In Egypt Yellow is reserved for Mourning
  • In India Yellow is the color used by Merchants
  • To Native Americans Yellow is the symbol for unconditional Love
  • In China Yellow represents Honor and Royalty

Meanings of Yellow in History & Popular Culture

  • In the Christian tradition Judas wore a Yellow coat when he betrayed Jesus.
  • In the “Wizard of Oz”, Dorothy followed the Yellow Brick Road’.
  • In 1968 the Beatles’ film and song Yellow Submarine’ was a huge hit.
  • Law enforcement in North America uses bright Yellow tape to mark a crime scene.
  • Yellow Traffic Light means caution – or slow down.
  • Yellow is often used for packaging No Name products to signify bargain pricing.
  • Yellow Page phone directories are a common sight everywhere.
  • We ‘tie a Yellow Ribbon’ as a symbol of hope, peace and remembrance.
  • Mellow Yellow’ by Donovan was a hit song in 1966
  • The phrase Yellow Journalism is used to mean irresponsible reporting.
  • The terms Yellow Bellied’ and ‘Yellow Streak’ are used to signify cowardice.
  • In the United States and Canada, taxis are often Yellow Cabs.
  • OSHA Coding uses Yellow signs to caution against physical hazards.
  • In mythology, Greek Goddesses were always ‘golden haired’ which has given us our fascination with blond people to this day.
  • In the signs of the Zodiac, Yellow is usually associated with Taurus.

Yellow in Nature

  • sun, sand, autumn leaves
  • flowers such as roses, daisies, sunflowers, dandelions
  • fruit such as lemons and bananas
  • vegetables like corn, parsnips, squash, potatoes
  • foods such as butter, saffron, mustard
  • animals such as Golden Labs, canaries, goldfish
  • jewelry such as gold, topaz, citrine, yellow diamonds

Yellow in Color Therapy

For most people, yellow is a happy color. It generally energizes, relieves depression, improves memory and stimulates appetite.

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