Four dinky sets, three garments and nighties extra, and each set slotted with different coloured ribbons, rosepink, pale blue, mauve and peagreen


Just ask yourself: Which colour do you prefer ? Have you always preferred it, or did your preference change ? Can you tell why you prefer pink to, let’s say, yellow ? If you have no answer to these questions, you may wonder what’s so interesting about colour preferences. And if you have no answer, or no interest in the questions, it’s perhaps because they are not very well shaped.

Let’s first agree that color preference is an important aspect of human behavior. It influences a large number of decisions people make on a daily basis, including the clothes and make up they wear, the way they decorate their homes, the artifacts they buy or create, to name but a few examples. What is more interesting is that color is, in some sense, a superficial quality that seldom influences the practical function of artifacts. What’s more interesting for psychologists, is that we still know very little on which factors actually determine these preferences. We still don’t have a good grasp on what they are, and how to capture them descriptively: some studies have reported universal preferences (for blue rather than red); others. for highly saturated colors ; some, finally, stress cultural and individual differences.

The problem may be that testing for colour preferences has something to do with colour perception, colour labeling and cultural associations - and all these problems are hard to disconnect. Elderly people for instance tend to change their colour preferences, but this may have to do with visual impairement. (…)

Another theory suggests that women, as caregivers who need to be particularly sensitive to, say, a child flushed with fever, have developed a sensitivity to reddish changes in skin color, a skill that enhances their abilities as the “emphathizer.”

Other arguments for innate colour preferences come from animal studies - with some recent surprising discoveries.  Animal colour preferences from sexual or social contexts are assumed to have arisen owing to preferences for specific kinds of food, representing a sort of sensory bias.

{ Cognition and Culture | Continue reading }

photo { Tim Barber }