Tag Archives: psychology

Survey about colour

University of Leeds Campus
University of Leeds Campus

I am very lucky to be working with Sea-hwa Won from South Korea who is here in Leeds for three years undertaking a PhD in colour design. Her PhD is about …. well, I can’t tell you that yet because it might influence the answers you give to her on-line survey. She has just launched an on-line survey about colour and product design and it would be great if you would help her research by clicking on the link below and completing the survey. Later, when the survey is complete I will say something about what the research is about.

Click here to take the colour survey. It only takes a minute of your time and for that you will receive the warm glow of satisfaction that you have contributed to the advancement of colour science.

special females

Our colour vision results from the fact that our eyes contain three types of light-sensitive cells or cones that have different wavelength sensitivity. Some people (called anomalous trichromats) are colour blind and this is usually because one of their cones is mutated and has a different wavelength sensitivity compared with those in so-called normal observers. Colour-blind is a misnomer really because anomalous trichromats can still see colour; they just have less ability to discriminate between colours than normals. Some people are missing one of the cone classes altogether and are referred to as dichromats; they have even poorer colour discrimination but can still see colour. Only monochromats are really colour blind and they are extremely rare.

For a long time I have known that some females have four cones classes (this makes them tetrachromats). Dr Gabriele Jordan, a researcher at the Institute of Neuroscience (Newcastle University) has spent the last 20 years working on human colour vision. She has discovered that tetrachromatic females exist and that although this gives them the potential for colour discrimination much better than normal trichromats in practice most have normal colour discrimination. However, in a recent report she has found a tetrachromat who really does have enhanced colour discrimination. This is really exciting news!

The report in the Daily Mail suggest that a functional tetrachromat could be able to see 99 million more hues than the average person. Personally I am skeptical of this claim even if, as I suspect, it means 99 million more hues than the average person. The number of colours that an average person can see is debatable but I think may be about 10 million (see my previous blog post).

meaning of red

Today I found Karen Haller’s blog post on the meaning of red.

I liked the fact that she wrote about positive (warmth, excitement, energy) and negative (aggressive, confrontational) connotations of the colour. Karen argues that companies that use red as their primary colour are aggressive and energetic with a buzz about them. She gives examples of vodafone, coca cola, and virgin. Do you agree with her?

Koreans hate pink!

About six months ago I posted about popular car colours in Canada. Silver and grey were the most popular colours according to sales data with black not far behind. I think it would be a rather similar story in the UK. Certainly silvery grey has become very popular over the last 10 years or so. My own car is black. My last car was grey. White is not popular here – I heard that car salesman refer to the colour of second-hand white cars as “three-week white” because it takes three weeks longer to sell them than cars in other colours. Though I think the last few years has seen a slight increase in the popularity of white cars in the UK.

Anyway, according to The Color Association of the United States nine out of ten cars sold in South Korea are white, silver (grey) or black – a higher proportion for these three colours than in any other country. Apparently, white cars have the highest resale value; white is associated with families and therefore white cars are thought to have been owned by responsible family types like me and therefore will have been well maintained. (My car is definitely not well maintained.)

It’s very unusual to see a pink car in Korea – only a rebellious type would have such a car! The Wall Street Journal are currently reporting a story about such a non-conformant and feature on a Mr Park who bought a white sports car and had it painted pink. Whereas in France, the Citreon DS3 has just been launched with a fuchsia pink roof. There still remains a cultural difference where social pressure in the east urges people to fit in whereas in the west it is more about “look at me”. A japanese person once told me there is a proverb about the nail that sticks out gets hammered down.

Personally, I would love a pink car, though certainly not a Citreon. This story also reminds me that a web-based study suggests that the most frequently mis-spelled colour word in the English language is fuchsia – or is it fuschia?

red makes you eat less

Yesterday was the first lecture in my module (Colour: Art and Science) at the University of Leeds. In this module I look at colour from a multi-disciplinary perspective covering art, design, physics, history, philosophy, neuroscience, advertising and branding – all perspectives that are needed to understand colour or are strongly influenced by colour. Towards the end of the module I look at colour in branding and advertising and look at the effects that colours have on people’s behaviours and emotional states. One of the frustrating things about it though is that there is a lack of high-quality research about this. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there is more nonesense written about colour (in books and on the internet) than almost any other topic I know!

Take the effect of colour on appetite. Lots of websites and books will tell you the same thing. Red stimulates appetite and this is one reason, for example, why it might be used in MacDonalds’ interior colour scheme. On the hand, blue inhibits your appetite; one reason for this is often stated as being that blue foods are quite rare and therefore we are predisposed to not want to eat blue foods (though what about blueberries!!). But when people write this, how many of them have actually done any research or read any research about these effects? That’s what I mean about nonesense; people write it because they heard it somewhere or imagined that it might be true. Last week I came across some research on the effect of colour on appetite. In this research, published in the Journal of Appetite, and jointly carried out by staff from the University of Basel (Switzerland) and the University of Mannheim (Germany) it was shown that participants drank less from a red cup than a blue cup and ate less snack food from a red plate than from a blue plate. In other words, the opposite of what is commonly believed. The point of this is that more serious research needs to be done to explore the effects that colour has; come and do a PhD in my lab and help to rectify that!!

Of course, the research referred to above does not necessarily mean that people would prefer red food to blue food or that people would eat less food in a restaurant decorated in red rather than blue. It is exactly that sort of extrapolation that is partly responsible for all of the misinformation about colour that is everywhere around us. I have to confess that I myself am sometimes responsible for this misinformation since I was talking to the students last year about the appetite-suppressant properties of blue. I need to stop now …. and go and do some more research.

yellow is the new red


I am not the world’s expert on fashion but it seems that red has been popular all through spring and summer. I first came across the surge in popularity of red last year when a journalist contacted me to ask my opinion as to why there had been an increase in sales of red kitchen and personal electronic equipment. We both agreed that probably the choice of red may be caused by consumers using colour choice to be bold and energetic in contrast to feeling tied down and depressed by the financial recession. I then listened to the podcast for Spring 2011 on Color Outlook and learned that red has been a popular colour for interior design this year right across the USA.
Now it seems that red has been a popular fashion colour all summer but is due to be replaced in the autumn (or the fall, as some people strangely call it) by yellow; another vibrant and positive colour. For further details see the Babble blog.

do we dream in colour?

I once read that 20th Century research indicated that most people dream in black and white but that modern research reveals that most people dream in colour. The difference is attributed to the fact that in the early 20th century the majority of people spent a long time looking at black and white media. I came across this idea again in The Times today. Sadly, I can’t link to the story because The Times Online is no longer free. Boooo. In fact, I read this in The Review section of The Times today (paper version – I am too mean to pay for the online version). The article stated that a Japanese study published this month by the American Psychological Association found that most people in their sixties dreamt in black and white while the majority of university students (the implication being, I suppose, that these represent a much younger subset of the population) dreamt in rich colour (rich colour – not just colour!). The researchers suggest that younger participants had grown up watching colour TV. However, a psychologist – Ian Wallace – was quoted as saying that he thought this explanation was unlikely sine television represents a tiny part of the visual field and old viewers would have spent far less time watching television that we do today. In fact, the main article was about REM and about how having too much deep REM sleep where we dream could be associated with depression. Anyway, I think it must be very difficult to actually know whether people dream in colour – you could ask them when they wake up, but remembering could, of course, be the result of a false memory.

preferred colours

Many studies have been carried out over the last 50-100 years to look at which colours people like and which they don’t like. Although there is variability between individuals (not everyone likes the same colours) there is surprising consistency when the results of lots of different studies are compared. In short people like blues and greens and don’t like yellows and (to a lesser extent) reds. The hue parameter is probably the most important but brightness and colourfulness also affect colour preference. People tend to like brighter and more colourful colours than darker and less colourful ones. Just for fun, I have been running my own survey on this web site. You can still add your two-penneth worth if you like – please go to http://colourware.wordpress.com/2011/02/22/favourite-colour-poll/. Interestingly, my fun survey is also in broad agreement with all those previously published experiments. I found that people’s preferences were:

blue 19%
green 19%
purple 14%
red 11%
orange 8%
yellow 8%
pink 8%
black 4%
grey 4%
white 3%
brown 1%
other 1%

I am not sure what practical application there could be in knowing which colours are more popular. For example, my favourite colour is red but I probably wouldn’t want to buy a red coat. Though on average most people really like blue, this doesn’t mean it would be sensible to make a product blue without consideration of many other factors. In design, colour is almost always in context and that context makes all the difference in the world.

More interesting though is recent research I have read which proposes a reason why there is individual variation in colour preference. According to this idea, we like those colours that remind us of things that we like (we like blue skies and green grass). It could explain dark yellows and oranges are particularly unpopular; these colours are normally associated with some rather unsavoury things (dark orange is the colour of poo and dark yellow the colour of vomit). Further, if people have a strong affiliation with an idea/concept that is strongly associated with a colour, then they may have some preference bias towards that colour. It makes me think – I am a hug fan of Manchester United and red is my favourite colour; but do I like red because I like Manchester United or do I like Manchester United because I like red? I am too old to remember which came first.

colour branding survey

Please take a moment to take part in this colour branding survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/HTJJ5L6

It will only take a few minutes. This is a survey conducted by one of my students in the School of Design (http://www.design.leeds.ac.uk/) at the University of Leeds.

When the survey is complete I will post a comment about the results here for those who are interested.