Color Memory of University Students: Influence of Color Experience and Color Characteristic

By Bynum, Carlisle; Epps, Helen H. et al. | College Student Journal, December 2006 | Go to article overview

Color Memory of University Students: Influence of Color Experience and Color Characteristic


Bynum, Carlisle, Epps, Helen H., Kaya, Naz, College Student Journal


The ability to select a previously viewed color specimen from an array of specimens that differ in hue, value, or chroma varies among individuals, and may be related to one's basic color discrimination ability or to prior experience with color. This study investigated short-term color memory of 40 college students, 20 of whom were interior design majors and 20 who had no previous color-related education or professional experience. Color memory in four hue categories was tested separately using sets of Munsell color chips that consisted of a target color and nine distractors that were closely related to, but visibly different from the target color. After viewing the target color for 5 seconds, followed by a delay of an additional 5 seconds, each student was presented a set of 10 color chips and asked to identify the target color. Results revealed that the most accurately remembered color was yellow, followed by purple, orange, and green. Students with no prior color training more accurately remembered the color purple than did design majors, while design majors were more accurate in remembering the color orange. Participants in the two groups reported the use of similar cues in remembering the target colors.

INTRODUCTION

Among humans, there is a wide range of ability to distinguish color differences and to remember color. Uchikawa and Shinoda (1996) have indicated that the visual system has both the ability to discriminate small color differences and the ability to perceive different colors as the same, noting, for example, that the three distinct colors, blue-red, orange-red, and yellow-red, can all be described simply as "red".

Color memory can be described as "successive color matching" a category of color matching in which time elapses between the presentation of a color stimulus and the attempt to match the remembered color (de Fez, Capilla, Luque, Perez-Carpinell, & del Pozo, 2001, Perez-Carpinell, Baldovi, de Fez, & Castro, 1998). One universal conclusion of color memory research over the past 100 years is that while some individuals seem to be able to retain a color in memory, others cannot. Early research also shows that color memory is not consistent across the visible spectrum. Noting that certain colors have inherent differences that make them more difficult to remember than others, Collins (1931) conducted experiments in which subjects were asked to reproduce a previously seen color, and found that particular wavelengths of green and red were hard for the subjects to reproduce and also difficult to recognize again. This finding was confirmed by Hamwi and Landis (1955), who also found that in addition to hue, ability to remember a color is also influenced by its lightness or darkness. Later, Nilson and Nelson (1981) found that the most accurately remembered colors were violets, green-blues, and yellow-oranges. However, more recent work (Jin & Shevell, 1996) demonstrated that long and medium wavelengths were remembered more accurately than shorter wavelengths.

The context in which a color is presented has also been shown to have an effect on the viewers' ability to remember the color. In a study investigating the typicality of color to particular objects, Ratner and McCarthy (1990) concluded that for objects shown in colors in which they are typically seen, the colors were remembered more accurately than when atypical colors were used.

Other research has shown that visual images such as color stimuli are remembered more easily than words, such as color names. Allen (1990) proposed that proactive inhibition is involved in color memory. Proactive inhibition is said to occur when a new and different method of encoding, or remembering, results from a change in the material to be remembered. In an experiment on memory of ambiguous color, Allen (1990) concluded that color names are encoded only verbally, while colors are encoded both verbally and perceptually, noting that a change from remembering color names to remembering color results in a release from proactive inhibition, as evidenced by an improved ability to remember. …

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