Have you ever wondered why, when you look at a rainbow, you see distinct bands of colour? You may see red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet (though more likely you will not be able to distinguish between indigo and violet). We know that the wavelength of light in the visible spectrum – http://colourware.wordpress.com/2009/06/29/colour-101/ – varies smoothly and continuously, so why don’t we see a smooth and continuous colour spectrum? Why do we see distinct colour bands?
In my opinion the reason we see bands is because of something called categorical perception. We tend to want to group things that we perceive together into one class or another. But this grouping is not just a matter of putting things into boxes; it has an impact on how we perceive those things. We see categorical perception everywhere – indeed, I have often wondered whether even the periodic table of chemical elements is a true and accurate representation of how the world is or whether it stems from our categorical perception.
A recent study by Skorinko at the University of Virginia and colleagues at Rice University (published in Psychology and Marketing, 2006) finds that consumers have a more positive reaction to products whose colours are given rather exotic and flashy names such as mocha compared with the same products that are given plainer and genric names such as brown.
And how is that linked to the early statements I hear you ask (even though you asked very quietly)? Well, the authors hypothesise that the reason for the improved consumer reaction to the fancy colours is …. categorical percetption. The fancy names stimulate a more positive category than their plainer alternatives. It is also suggested that more ambiguous descriptions (mocha as opposed to brown, for example) yield higher consumer acceptance and safisfaction. I cannot resist finishing this blog with the last line from the paper by Skorinko et al. (2006) who write:
Indeed, the judgement of “that we call a rose” seems to be influenced by its name (Shakespeare, 1595).