The Echoes of the Mind (75) Color


The way in which colors vary is the same from person to person. Despite their subjectivity, colors are trustworthy measures of real object properties. ~ American psychologist Anya Hulbert

Of all the human senses, vision processing takes the most brain tissue. 60% of the brain is involved, though less than 20% is devoted solely to sight.

The 6 to 7 million cones in the human eye can be divided by their spectral quantities: red (64%), green (32%), and blue (2%). (Blue cones are much more light-sensitive than red or green cones. Their numerical disadvantage is overcome by mental image processing, which provides a compensatory blue amplifier.) Despite these vast discrepancies in sensory wavelength uptake, we perceive colors smoothly and evenly throughout the visible spectrum (380–780 nanometers).

The lower end of the spectrum is of warmer colors (red, orange, yellow), while the tighter wavelengths yield cool colors (green, blue).

Categorical color distinctions arise before the development of linguistic abilities. ~ Chinese psychologist Jiale Yang

As with all else, color is a construct of the mind, which does an amazing job with visual perception in maintaining constancy despite varying conditions. Colors are hardly affected by significant changes in ambient light.

Evidently there is active mental scaling to make the world appear stable under ever-changing conditions. As the intensity of light in a wavelength band increases, photoreceptor sensitivity in that band lessens, canceling out the change in illuminated spectrum. Sizes remain consistent at different distances, though this breaks down at large distances, or when looking down from a considerable height. Optical illusions result from perceptual scaling faults.

Color constancy readily fails under artificial light, especially fluorescent lights, whose energy spectra are not smooth but jagged.

Contrast plays an enormous role in vision. The differences between opposite colors and light values are dramatically enhanced when they are juxtaposed. Reds appear redder when placed next to green, blues bluer when situated adjacent to orange, and darks darken when surrounded by light. This phenomenon is termed simultaneous contrast.

The color of an object may be predicted by the ratio of cone excitations from the object and its background. Encoding colors as cone contrasts evolved as a means of maintaining color constancy.

Whereas a surrounding color induces its greater contrast in simultaneous contrast, the opposite effect occurs in color assimilation: a surrounding color insinuates itself. Consider a checkerboard pattern of alternating purple and green squares. Replace a small number of a purple squares with neutral gray and the gray squares take on a greenish cast. If instead gray replaces green, the gray squares become purplish.

Why greater contrast occurs in some patterns and assimilation in others is not fully known, but scale makes a difference. The smaller the patches of color interleaving, the greater the propensity for assimilation.

Unsurprisingly, color discrimination is biological, not cultural.

Infants’ categorical distinctions align strikingly with those that are commonly made in the world’s different color lexicons. Color categorization is partly organized and constrained by the biological mechanisms of color vision. ~ English psychologist Alice Skelton et al

Color Psychology

Mere color, unspoiled by meaning, and unallied with definite form, can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways. ~ Oscar Wilde

The psychological import of color cannot be understated. Colors elicit emotional responses, and so subconsciously shade our affinities and aversions.

Unquestionably color has a physical effect upon the human organism. ~ American color maven Faber Birren

Perceptions not obviously related to color are nonetheless affected by hue. Consumers generally make an initial judgment of a packaged product within 90 seconds of exposure to it, and that denouement is largely based on color.

The color of placebo pills is a factor in their effectiveness. Whereas a hot-colored pill works better as a stimulant, a cool-colored pill is a more apt depressant. The relationship is a product of expectation, not of color itself.

The warmth or coolness of a color generally has an excitatory or calming effect respectively. It is as if higher frequency wavelengths are able to impart indifference.

Streetlights which cast bluish light anecdotally reduced crime in certain neighborhoods. And most every heterosexual man is moved by the sight of a woman in a flaming red dress: interpreting it as a sign of being sexually receptive. (Women also interpret a woman in red as being sexually receptive.)

Red is universally associated with arousal. Seeing red speeds reaction time regardless of gender. But red alters perception more for males than females. Men experience time dilation with red in front of them (time subjectively slows), whereas women are not so affected.

Red is a sign of dominance in primates. Owing to increased blood flow, the skin flushes red with anger: an alert signal to which males are more responsive; hence the emotional valance of red differs by gender.

In the 2004 Olympic Games, contestants in four combat sports were randomly assigned red or blue outfits. If colour has no effect on the outcome of contests, the number of winners wearing red should be statistically indistinguishable from the number of winners wearing blue. However, we found that for all four competitions, there is a consistent and statistically significant pattern in which contestants wearing red win more fights. ~ English anthropologists Russell Hill & Robert Barton

How people typically react to color varies. This personal preference may be influenced culturally but is rooted in individual biology. Whereas children’s color preferences change, adult color inclination is typically settled.

As with red, color generally has a gender component. Whereas bold colors are typically considered masculine, pastels, particularly pink, are construed as feminine. Again, personal preferences may defy such classification.

Pink isn’t just a color, it’s an attitude. ~ American singer Miley Cyrus, who suffers no shortage of attitude