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From what I can see, all the colors in the emotional spectrum that have rings use the internal emotion of its wielder to control the ring's power.

Except Yellow...

Red feeds off the rage of the individual weilding it, Orange feeds off the one orange agent's avarice, Green feeds off the Green Lantern's willpower, etc. But Yellow feeds off the fear of OTHERS and not the wielder.

Is this by design? Do those rings just work backwards?

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The yellow ring works off of your ability to generate fear. It doesn't stop working just because you aren't scaring people, so it isn't based on the actual fear others feel of you.

It's actually similar to how the blue ring works: the blue ring isn't passed out on the hope you have, but the hope you can inspire. Saint Walker was chosen as a blue lantern because he inspired an entire doomed planet to work to reclaim themselves. He gave them hope for the future, that they could leave a legacy they'd be proud of, despite their immanent doom.

Similarly, most of the yellow lanterns are not skittish, fearful creatures - they are terrifying. They're monsters in (usually) human(ish) form. There's Sinestro, who could change his name to 'Hitler' and be better liked. There's the spider lady, who is a parent's worst nightmare: she will kill you and steal your children. There's the virus, which obviously plays on your fear of the unknown disease. And there's Batman, who is the goddamn Batman (though the ring rejected him when it realized he was friends with GL).

The feeling of domination that bullies and monsters everywhere have when they are causing fear is likely what fuels their rings.

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    I always wondered why Batman wasn't a yellow ringer. Oct 3, 2011 at 15:31
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    @OghmaOsiris: Batman is practical - there's no way he'd set aside a weapon that enhanced his abilities so greatly as a power ring. Thus, there's no way the writers will give him one (except temporarily). He (briefly) wore Hal's ring once, and he was chosen as a Sinestro Corps member at the start of the War of Light, but the ring abandoned him (his prior contact with a green ring 'polluted' him for the S. Corps).
    – Jeff
    Oct 3, 2011 at 15:55

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