For several decades there has been a great interest in understanding how we use colour names. Do we use the same colour categories (even though they may be called different things in different languages) irrespective of language and culture; in other words, is our perception of colour the same across all cultures and this shapes our use of colour names? Or, is our perception of colour shaped by our language. A well-known study by Berlin and Kay in the late 1960s suggested that language is shaped by perception. But the alterantive hypothesis – known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis – that perception is shaped by language also has support. We may soon know more about this issue because of an interesting on-line colour experiment being carried out by a scientist at Hewlatt-Packard. California-based Nathan Moroney’s multi-lingual colour-naming experiment uses a clever design that allows each participant to perform a small part of the experiment; but when lots of people take part – from all parts of the world and using different languages – some interesting and valuable data is collected. I won’t say any more about the work here because it is not complete yet; but I urge you to go and take part in the experiment. It only takes a minute or less to do it. And there is a debriefing document that you can read about the results obtained so far. Please visit http://www.hpl.hp.com/personal/Nathan_Moroney/mlcn.html.
Meanwhile a study by Skirinko (at the University of Virginia) and colleagues at Rice University reveals that the colour names that companies such for their products can have a big effect on sales. Consumer reactions are more positive to fancy names such as mocha as opposed to simple and generic names such as brown. The explanation for this is based on categorical perception; people use categories and a name such a mocha maps to a more positive cataegory than the simpler brown. So it is perhaps not jsut the colour of a product that affects sales; sales may also be affected by the langauage used to describe the colours of products.
The work by Skirinko et al. was published in Psychology and Marketing in 2006.