Study Links Color Preference to Experiences

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The more school spirit a UC Berkeley student has, the less they will favor the colors red and white - Stanford University's colors - according to an ongoing study by UC Berkeley researchers, which found that people's color preferences are linked to their experiences.

As part of research investigating why people like the colors they do, UC Berkeley psychology professor Stephen Palmer and Karen Schloss, graduate student in psychology, found a connection between school spirit and school colors, findings that are currently under review by the campus department of psychology.

In April, the researchers published a more general study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences about how certain aspects of people's lives impact their perception of different colors. Researchers are now focusing on more idiosyncratic experiences associated with colors. For example, if a person has fond memories of their sister and her pink bedroom, they will feel more positively about the color pink.

"As a lab we're very interested in aesthetic response as a dimension of human experience," Schloss said. "We started the study after looking at the colors that were rated. People liked dark greens over lighter shades of green and dark reds over lighter shades of red - why?"

To conduct their studies, the researchers had four different groups perform four different tasks - rating their color preferences, recording the objects they associated with each color, rating how they felt about each object or matching an object to a color.

"Why people should even have a favorite color is not obvious, and this new report goes a long way in shedding light on the issue," said Nicholas Christenfeld, a UC San Diego psychology professor.

The researchers used the Weighted Affective Valence Estimate to measure what degree color preference is shaped by experience. WAVE provides an estimate for how positive the feelings are that are associated with color experiences.

"The findings fit in with other evidence supporting the idea that preferences are shaped (and reshaped) by experience," said Jay McClelland, a professor of psychology at Stanford, in an e-mail. "Cal fans' preferences for blue and gold over red and white, for example, increase in intensity around the Big Game. So look out for Cal fans who are really 'seeing red' like crazy on Nov. 20 of this year."

Palmer and Schloss are currently working on extending the research to look at cross-cultural differences.

"One big thing is looking at individual differences and trying to understand cultural differences," Schloss said. "We are currently coordinating efforts with labs in Mexico, Japan, Serbia, India and Italy."

Cross-cultural differences can occur in two ways - different cultures may have different objects that influence individuals' perceptions of certain colors, or two cultures may have the same object but may associate different feelings with that object.


Contact Rachel Banning-Lover at [email protected]

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