Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Ecological Influences on Individual Differences in Color Preference

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Ecological Influences on Individual Differences in Color Preference

Article excerpt

Published online: 14 August 2015

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2015

Abstract How can the large, systematic differences that exist between individuals' color preferences be explained? The ecological valence theory (Palmer & Schloss, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107:8877-8882, 2010) posits that an individual's preference for each particular color is determined largely by his or her preferences for all correspondingly colored objects. Therefore, individuals should differ in their color preferences to the extent that they have different preferences for the same color-associated objects or that they experience different objects. Supporting this prediction, we found that individuals' color preferences were predicted better by their own preferences for correspondingly colored objects than by other peoples' preferences for the same objects. Moreover, the fit between color preferences and affect toward the colored objects was reliably improved when people's own idiosyncratic color-object associations were included in addition to a standard set of color-object associations. These and related results provide evidence that individual differences in color preferences are reliably influenced by people's personal experiences with colored objects in their environment.

Keywords Color aesthetics . Color cognition . Ecological valence theory (EVT)

The study of human color preferences in psychology has an erratic history, largely due to the high degree of variability across individuals. Early researchers concluded that color preferences were too idiosyncratic for empirical study (e.g., Chandler, 1928; Cohn, 1884;vonAllesch,1924). However, Eysenck (1941) argued that these failures were due to the use of unstandardized colors and inadequate statistical analyses. His own results showed systematic effects with reliable agreement among participants, which were confirmed and extended by subsequent investigations of group averages (e.g., Granger, 1952, 1955; Guilford & Smith, 1959; Hurlbert & Ling, 2007; McManus, Jones, & Cottrell, 1981; Ou, Luo, Woodcock, & Wright, 2004; Palmer & Schloss, 2010; Taylor & Franklin, 2012). These studies indicated that average hue preferences follow a relatively smooth, curvilinear function, with a peak at blue and a trough around yellow to yellow-green. People generally prefer colors with greater saturation, although this result may be limited to abstract colored swatches (Schloss, Strauss, &Palmer, 2013). Color preferences may also increase with increased lightness (e.g., Guilford & Smith, 1959;McManus et al., 1981), although this pattern is not always evident (e.g., Palmer & Schloss, 2010). For reviews, see Whitfield and Wiltshire (1990) and Palmer, Schloss, and Sammartino (2013).

Despite robust, systematic patterns in average color preferences, there are still extensive individual differences. Indeed, the variability across individuals is large relative to the variability within individuals across testing sessions (McManus et al., 1981). How can these individual differences be explained?

Biological accounts of individual differences

One possibility is that individual differences are caused by differences in the responses of photoreceptors. Physiological differences in cone photopigments produce measureable differences in the threshold sensitivities to different colors, due to slight peak shifts in receptor response (e.g., the varieties of color weakness among the population of so-called normal trichromats). Even typical trichromats differ in their relative numbers of retinal L, M, and S cones (Roorda & Williams, 1999), suggesting that such differences might underlie individual differences in color preferences. However, individual differences in the relative numbers of different cone types among normal trichromats have little effect on sensitive psychophysical measurements such as the locus of unique hues and color appearance ratings (e. …

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