Monday was officially the first day of fall. Of course, a lot of people have been celebrating autumn, since Aug. 27 when Starbucks released the Pumpkin Spice Latte for this year. Botanists are predicting that peak fall foliage won’t occur in our region of the country until at least late October. Furthermore, the lack of rain might also have a negative effect on this year’s display.

Most seasons have traditional colors associated with them and the fall palette of colors obviously comes from the changing autumn leaves and fall harvest. While fall has much to recommend it, the rich fall colors rank among the most dramatic of seasonal displays.

I think of orange as the prototypical autumn color, representing as it does, both fall and the harvest. It probably comes mostly from the pumpkin crop, and the various shades of leaves. Orange is a bright and warm color combining the stimulation of red and the cheerfulness of yellow. It is generally associated with positive emotions such as joy and happiness.

Reddish brown is also associated with fall. This color is seen in apples, and a variety of foliage. The color is typically related to intense emotion. Brown is an autumn earth tone that is thought to provide a strong sense of comfort and calmness. In its numerous shades, brown is usually associated with land, soil, and nature. Finally black is the strongest of fall colors. It’s often linked with negative emotions, like fear, sadness and even death, making it a popular color for Halloween time.

Psychologists Karen Schloss and Stephen Palmer from the University of California at Berkeley believe that people learn to like those colors that are associated with objects and situations that they perceive as positive and they learn to dislike colors associated with things and events that they deem negative. They point out that individuals often show a preference for their school team colors and an aversion for the team colors of their rivals. In support of their theory even today I would never buy a red and black jacket, since those were the colors of my high school’s arch enemies— the Granite City High School Warriors.

When it comes to preferences for fall colors, only 7 percent of men and 3 percent of women chose orange as their favorite color. As a young father I got a good deal on a used Dodge Polara that was orange in color. It was Dodge’s full size car and was as big as a barge. It was the widest vehicle that I ever drove. Once during a windstorm I was afraid that it was going to become airborne. Our kids took one look at it and dubbed it “The Pumpkin Car.” The kids named all of our cars. We once had an old Chevy Chevette which had a funny smell. They called it “The Cheese Car.”

According to Florida-based MDG Advertising, research has demonstrated that 62 to 90 percent of a consumers’ first reactions to new products is based on color alone. Color differentiates brands and evokes emotion when people see them. Overall men prefer bold colors, while women prefer soft ones. Of course, there are exceptions. In the 1993 Adams Family Values movie Morticia Adams says to Uncle Fester’s homicidal new bride, “You have married Fester, you have destroyed his spirit, you have taken him from us. All that I could forgive. But Debbie... pastels?”

Most women can also identify a wider spectrum of colors than men. People may prefer the exact same color more or less depending on the label given to it. For example, most women prefer a color called mocha to the same color called brown. My wife Diane likes a pair of pants better since I referred to them as butterscotch in color. And who wouldn’t prefer plum to plain old purple.

Psychologist Jason Brunt, from Biola University in California, believes that people are attracted to visual contrasts from infancy and autumn foliage is rich in deep contrasts. He says, “Heavy visual contrast, saturation and brightness are perceived as pleasantly exciting, and all of those properties characterize peak fall season.” These contrast are even more striking and surprising according to Blunt, since they usually follow months and months of viewing the same shades of green. Such pattern interruptions are perceived as meaningful, especially when they come at regular intervals.

Just the grandeur of a fall tableau can be awe inspiring. Brunt says, “Research shows that, when we encounter something greater than ourselves, it may reduce self-centered thoughts and increase cooperative behavior.”

Expressive arts therapist Michelle Harris from William James College in Massachusetts sees autumn walks and strolls as especially therapeutic. She says that she tries to interrupt her patients stress reactions with “positive sensory and kinesthetic experiences.” She says, “When you’re walking and focusing on the changing leaves, you’re no longer cuing your brain to run or fight, instead, you’re cuing your brain to pay attention to something beautiful and enjoy it.”

Autumn colors also evoke associations with positive experiences, from the past; football games in the fall, seasonal foods like cider, doughnuts, and pies, and activities like trick-or-treating or jumping in a pile of fallen leaves. Such memories, even if only barely conscious, can improve a person’s mood. Of course, for some people fall can carry a negative connotations. Some may mourn the end of summer and dread the opening of school or have experienced a significant loss in the autumn.

Our family is getting ready for our shot of fall color with our annual pilgrimage to Starlight, Indiana. I suppose my favorite fall color is light brown, as in deep-fried biscuits and apple butter.

— Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D. lives in Jeffersonville and is the CEO of LifeSpring Health Systems. He can be reached at tstawar@gmail.com.

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