Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Lüscher Code: The Professor who Investigated the Connections between Color, Psyche, and Health

The trite state of the medical arts and sciences and the seeming indifference of many if not most of its practitioners to this sad state of affairs has been one of the steady laments of these pages. These are not complaints that are plucked out of thin air, nor are there no laudable examples of doctors and scientists who have made huge breakthroughs in medicine in recent years.

One of those very interesting scientists to make some extremely interesting discoveries, and, as is customary in a field dominated by mountebanks, all but completely be ignored, is Professor Max Lüscher (b 1923). In his day he taught at institutes of higher learning such as Yale University's School of Medicine and the Sorbonne's Psychology Department among many others. Lüscher had been fascinated by philosophy and psychology from an early age, and was given special - and rarely given - permission to audit university courses in psychology and philosophy at the age of 16. At 18, he began to ponder what influence the perception of color has on understanding the Rorschach test. The more he busied himself with the question, the more interesting the results were that he found. Colors have clear physiological effects on humans; some shades of red, for example, cause the heart rate to pick up and other involuntary symptoms of arousal to manifest themselves, similarly some shades of blue have an opposite effect. In more medical terms, this would be equivalent to the stimulation of the sympathetic or parasympathetic nerves.

Lüscher came to understand that while everyone sees the exact same colors when presented with the same color samples, how they perceive the colors is completely subjective, and often very informative about their state of mind and their health. His research was made easier by a lucky break; a befriended doctor arranged for him to enjoy unlimited access to the patients at the hospital he directed, and to their medical records, which Lüscher used to assiduously investigate how patients perceived certain colors he had identified as particularly useful for such diagnostic purposes, and what correlations existed with their physical and psychological states. Another obvious result is that once enough patients with clear medical records had been examined to allow clear conclusions to be drawn about how health states affect the perception of colors, testing the perception of colors would allow clear conclusions to be drawn about health problems that exist, and about health problems which were likely to appear in the future, simply by measuring how people perceive colors. The obvious caveat is that these conclusions will only be as reliable as the data and common sense that is used to draw them. All the same, this is extremely interesting. Such a color test can be done in 5 minutes; rather than requiring that blood be drawn and sent to laboratories and the like, the only equipment required is a sheet of paper, a pen, and eight pages with Lüscher's copyrighted colors on them.

His discoveries were sufficiently interesting enough for him to be invited to be a speaker at the first International Congress of Psychology to meet after the Second World War, this while he was still a student. His talks there made such an impression that he was invited to lecture about his work at the Sorbonne and to the Quai d'Orsay, the French Foreign Ministry, right after receiving his doctorate. To this day, Dr. Lüscher's lectures are well attended.

Lüscher's (copyrighted) color test consists of batteries of seven tests; first of all, the testee is acted to rate eight colors according to how pleasant and unpleasant he or she finds them to be, then to rate a few shapes by the same criteria, and then to identify which of four colors and then which of four shades of four colors seem most appealing, and then to rerate the eight colors. What the results can tell you is amazing.

  • Personality traits are clearly reflected in the results of his test.
  • One of the conclusions that can be drawn from some results of the Lüscher Color test is that some patients either do or don't have a predisposition to get cancer. Admittedly, in the material I've read, the likelihood of the testee getting or not getting cancer are only given for less common color preferences not indicative of overall good health, but they are strong (p<0.001.)
  • A Norwegian researcher found that in a study of 4275 13 year olds who grow up to be delinquents as adults already show significant differences in their subjective perceptions of the colors compared to those who don't; they find Lüscher's strains of black to be much more pleasant and yellow much less pleasant than their peers who go on to lead troubled lives. (Lie N, Boys who became offenders. A follow-up study of 2203 boys tested with projective methods, Acta Psychiatr Scand Suppl. 1988;342:1-122.)
  • Elena Schikowa wrote her 2001 dissertation at Moscow State University in which she documented that male and female asthmatics have statistically significant deviations (i.e. p<0.05)
  • A predisposition to heart attacks is also reflected in the choice of colors.
  • Finding Lüscher's yellow to be, in relative terms, very unattractive correlates with having a high T-lymphocyte count.
  • A. Vegliach reports that in a sample of 25 depressives, depression could be diagnosed with p=0.00522, in other words probably with more precision than with the diagnostic checklists used today.
  • I'm in the process of confirming that pregnant women and hyperthyroids also reveal themselves through their perception of colors.

Being a psychologist and philosopher, Dr. Lüscher not surpisingly also has some fairly interesting explanations to offer for why the different colors have different meanings, how, for example, his strain of violet, the color that results when red and blue is mixed, unites some traits associated with red and some with blue and more.

Another interesting fact is that Albert Szent-Györgyi, whose contributions to science have already been touched on in these pages, was also convinced the many colors one finds in the human body also must have some significance in the greater scheme of bodily functions. Why, he had asked his professors as an aspiring medico, was the liver brown? Their answer was that the liver is brown because.. well the liver is brown. This wasn't good enough for Szent-Györgyi, who was still pondering this in his 70s and asking his readers what the significance of oxygenated blood being the vibrant crimson is. Oxgenated blood is rich in oxygen, which is the primary source of oxidation in the body. Is it a surprise that the color of blood that powers this most important process has such an visual impact on us humans?

As the gentle reader may recall, Szent-Györgyi was convinced that semiconduction plays an important role in human biology, particularly that of cancer, and that cancer ultimately is a problem of - among other things - electron shell configurations. Since photons can change electron shell configurations, the reports that a person's color preference allows statistically very meaningful conclusions to be drawn about an individuals predisposition to cancer at the very least confirms that there is a good likelihood that Szent-Györgyi was onto something interesting. I have no idea to what all uses Dr. Lüscher's work can be put. Nevertheless...

  • Could it be that routine mammograms do more harm than good in patients whose likelihood of suffering cancer during their lifetime is 0.1%, if said minority can be identified with a 5 minute color perception test?
  • Could it be that people at a high risk of suffering a heart attack could be identified, and perhaps helped to reduce their likelihood of suffering a heart attack with this 5 minute test?
  • Would it make sense to seek to identify adolescents who are highly likely to commit violent crimes as adults, and perhaps monitor them more extensively than people who appear to be at no risk?
  • Could it be that one could identify which medications are most likely to be helpful in some illnesses with this test? I suspect so. Lüscher, in fact, says so.
  • If illnesses and psychology are linked, would the competent and beneficial practice of medicine also involve identifying and instilling values and helping to order patients and society? Is this compatible with medicine by committee?

Unfortunately, medicine has all too often become neither an art nor a science, but rather a system of following flow charts that generally are created by committees in highly opaque circumstances. The only thing that is somewhat transparent is the flow of funding from the pharmaceutical industry to the politicians who chose those who are to regulate the industry. Thinking is deemed unbecoming; how else can one explain that it generally takes years until very serious, sometimes lethal, side-effects of "blockbuster" treatments are documented, if they ever are. For many doctors pretty much their only art is determining how to best code illness in order to maximize renumeration from the health insurances. This is an art particularly suited to mediocrities and the mediocrities among mediocrities; not surprisingly medicine today is full of such creatures. Whenever decisions are customarily made by committees, as is the wont in academia in our days, those who have better things to do than attend sempiternal committee meetings will neither thrive nor often get the acknowledgment that ought be their due.

The ancient Greeks had their priests who praised Zeus, Neptune and Hera; when they needed advice, they would consult among others the Oracle at Delphi. The Romans had priests who praised Jupiter, Saturn and the Lares. The ancient Germans had priests who praised Wotan, Thor, Freya, Odin, and others. contemporary Americans are plagued by clowns who praise the likes of Lipitor, Prozac, Vioxx, and Neurontin, and ascribe to them and all the other deities and semi-deities listed in the American pharmacopoeia magical powers that are not only not scientifically proven but sometimes even embarrassingly prove to be scientifically disproved. Every people must have its witchdoctors.

To round the buffooneries off, Americans even suffer the attentions of professional "drug czars," men rarely thought to understand much of pharmacology or medicine, but who have nevertheless taken in upon themselves to craft and enforce an American pharmacological demonology that few but the most abject of morons take even halfway serious. Curiously, the deities in this bizarre belief system all too often are under patent; the demons that must be vigorously exorcised, even publicly burned, generally have been treasured for their medicinal uses for thousands of years, and could generally be easily cultivated in your backyard were it not for these purported public servants. We are now at the point of a system of mountebanks, for mountebanks, and by mountebanks.

As long as people are accept as an article of faith that medicine by committee and insurance claim is superior to medicine practiced as an art and science between doctor and patient, and to tolerate legislation which prohibits the latter by force of law, they will get exactly what they deserve, nothing more and nothing less.


There are several pages dedicated to the Lüscher test that are online. But as they are at best rather shoddy attempts to emulate a copyrighted test, I won't link to them. Dr. Lüscher spent two years going through no less than 4,500 colors before he settled on the 43 colors and shades of gray that feature in his test. The results of his test are calibrated to his colors; any attempt to create a test that doesn't use his colors is a fool's errand.

Here is the website licensed to sell Dr. Lüscher's tests:

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