Depression linked to gray houses

“Uniformness combined with low light conditions can get to you,” says researcher at NTNU

Photo: Brian Shaw / Wikimedia Commons While gray houses like this one may be trendy, studies show they can also lead to depression.

Photo: Brian Shaw / Wikimedia Commons
While gray houses like this one may be trendy, studies show they can also lead to depression.

Michael Sandelson & Sarah Bostock
The Foreigner

Kine Angelo, Assistant Professor at Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Department of Architectural Design, Form, and Color Studies, draws her conclusions after having traveled the length and breadth of Norway.

The trend of painting houses gray, thus eviscerating any color contrasts, can make people tired, cause headaches, and, in the worst case, “lead to depression.”

“The eye must strain itself to detect contrast if everything turns gray, which in turn inhibits our basic need for color. It’s not about aesthetics, per se,” Angelo says.

The health-affecting phenomenon is mostly particular to the color gray. It does not affect other monochrome color schemes such as white, yellow, or red to the same degree, explains Angelo, who has 20 years of practice as an interior architect in Norway, specializing in color.

“Colors are never experienced alone, but in the context with the surrounding colors—such as facades against sky, nature, and other houses. There are colors in nature,” she adds.

“It is important to remember why we have evolved to see colors in the first place. The ability to do so allows us to distinguish between object and background, get information about our surroundings, to find food, survive. The eye is looking for, and even trying to enhance contrasts,” says Angelo.

“What is special about monotonous grayness is that we can experience the grayness as being caused by low light levels. Also, the background for many gray houses in Norway is very often a gray, uniform sky.”

In 2010, researchers found that people with anxiety or depression were more likely to associate their mood with the color gray. Their results, published in the BMC Medical Research Methodology journal, showed that over half of the study’s volunteers picked a shade of gray from a color wheel to describe their mood. Some 30 percent of those with anxiety also chose this color.

Other studies, conducted by scientists at the University of Freiburg in Germany, showed that people with depression found detecting black-and-white contrast differences difficult, with people gripped by despair seeing the world in shades of gray.

Norway, which has previously been named as the third-happiest in the World Happiness Index, is also notorious for having little daylight during the winter months.

This article was originally published on The Foreigner. To subscribe to The Foreigner, visit

It also appeared in the Sept. 9, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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