What Does Lilac Mean In Psychology?

A review of the concepts and sensations related to this shade of violet.

What does the lilac color mean

The lilac color is one of the shades of violet, which is generated by combining the latter with the color white. Violet, in turn, can be obtained by combining a cool color (blue) and a warm color (red).

Both violet and lilac have been related to different psychological and cultural meanings, which we will see developed below.

Description and characteristics of this color

The lilac color gets its name from the botanical species Syringa vulgaris, which includes flowers whose distinctive feature is this color. It includes a wide range of shades that go from light lilac to common lilac, passing through French lilac, mauve and lavender.

Likewise, lilac can be obtained by combining the color violet with the color white, which is why it is considered one of the many types of violet that exist. Other derivatives of violet are for example purple, purple or burgundy. Each one varies according to the intensity of the violet itself.

For its part, violet is considered one of the primary colors by the RGB System (Red, Green, Blue), which is the chromatic analysis developed by Isaac Newton through the decomposition of sunlight. This decomposition was obtained by means of a glass prism with various wavelengths, which achieved a chromatic circle with the colors violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange and red.

For the RGB system, white light can be recreated by adding three colored lights: green, blue-violet and red-orange. These lights are those that cannot be obtained by combining others, so they are considered the primary colors. This system is the one that has been used to analyze the light properties, not pigmentation, of each color.

For the analysis of its pigment properties (which has made it possible to systematize colors in inks), another system known as CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key) was developed. In this system the colors that cannot be obtained by mixing others are blue, yellow and red (the primary colors); with the addition of black as the base pigment. For CMYK, violet is a secondary color, which emerges from the combination of red and blue. For its part, the lilac color is generated by the combination of violet with white, so it is considered one of the many shades of the first.

How do we perceive lilac?

In the retina of the human eye, violet and lilac are perceived by the simultaneous excitation of blue cones and red cones, located in the fovea (in the center of the macula lutea of ​​the eye). These cones act as trichromatic receptors through the optic nerve, which is responsible for communicating chromatic messages to the brain.

Through a wavelength of between 380 and 420 nm (which unfolds upon exposure with the chromatic stimulus), blue and red lights are generated, which finally allow us to perceive violet, as well as its different tones.

The above constitutes one of the descriptions about the mechanisms of color processing offered by physiology. However, psychology and anthropology have also explained to us what are some individual and cultural meanings of colors. Let’s see some of them below.

Meaning of lilac in psychology

For psychology, color is closely related to emotions. This is the case since, after perceiving the color ranges through the optic nerve, the rest of our system activates different emotions related to our personal and socio-cultural experiences with each color.

For example, for color psychology, cold colors, such as blue, are par excellence those that convey feelings of tranquility, while warm colors, such as red, are those that generate excitement. To herself, as Eva Heller (2004) has proposed, each color can change its meaning depending on how it is mixed with other colors.

In this sense, the same author proposes that lilac has been related in Western culture with an ambiguous image about cosmetics, vanity and the maturity of women. In other shades, the violet color can be related to frivolous and originality at the same time.

Likewise, being in one of the lowest shades of violet, the lilac color has been associated with tranquility, sweetness, warmth, measure and little impact. It is not usually related to negative behaviors, on the contrary, it is associated with sensitivity, empathy, kindness, balance and maturity.

All of the above has served to use colors strategically according to the feelings and emotions they want to provoke. This has impacted different spheres, ranging from psychotherapy to architecture and marketing. For example, it was the representative color of the extravagance of art nouveau .

Cultural meanings of lilac

Colors not only activate perceptions and emotional experiences at the individual level, but they can mobilize different social codes depending on how they have been used culturally. Even within the same culture, the meaning of colors and their shades can vary. For example, in Europe the color purple implies penance, although the color violet in light tones is related to humility.

In the same sense, one of the first classifications of color according to its social meanings was made by Goethe, who related the color violet, on a moral level, with the useless or the profitable. On an intellectual level, he related it to fantasy and the unreal. Regarding social status, he identifies him with artists, and at the level of cultural traditions with spirituality, magic and theology.

In fact, for the church, violet and its different shades have symbolized love and truth, although in constant tension with passion and suffering. In fact, they are the colors associated with representative times such as Lent and Advent, which are celebrated before Easter and before Christmas respectively. On the same dates, these colors are used in the habits of the bishops.

On the other hand, in South America the color purple was related to joy, because it was found in abundance in different flowers and crops throughout the year. Finally, in recent times, the color violet has been associated with feminist movements in different parts of the world.

Bibliographic references:

  • Heller, E. (2004). Color psychology. How colors act on feelings and reason. Editorial Gustavo Gili: Spain.
  • Llorente, C. (2018). Comparative analysis of chromatic symbology in advertising. Nike in China and Spain. Vivat Academica. Journal of Communication, 142: 51-78.
  • Parodi Gastañeta, F. (2002). The chromosemiotic. The meaning of color in visual communication. Retrieved September 17, 2018.Available at
  • Rivera, MA (2001). Perception and meaning of color in different social groups. Magazine Imagen, 53: 74-83.

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