A Systematic Investigation of Conceptual Color Associations

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Associations with colors are a rich source of meaning, and there has been considerable interest in understanding the capacity of color to shape our functioning and behavior as a result of color associations. However, abstract conceptual color associations have not been comprehensively investigated, and many of the effects of color on psychological functioning reported in the literature are therefore reliant on ad hoc rationalizations of conceptual associations with color (e.g., blue = openness) to explain effects. In the present work we conduct a systematic, cross-cultural, mapping of conceptual color associations using the full set of hues from the World Color Survey (WCS). In Experiments 1a and 1b we explored the conceptual associations that English monolingual, Chinese bilingual, and Chinese monolingual speaking adults have with each of the 11 Basic English Color Terms (black, white, red, yellow, green, blue, brown, purple, pink, orange, gray). In Experiment 2 we determined which specific physical WCS colors are associated with which concepts in these three language groups. The findings reveal conceptual color associations that appear to be universal across all cultures (e.g., white - purity; blue - water/sky related; green - health; purple - regal; pink - "female" traits) as well as culture specific (e.g., red and orange - enthusiastic in Chinese; red - attraction in English). Importantly, the findings provide a crucial constraint on, and resource for, future work that seeks to understand the effect of color on cognition and behavior, enabling stronger a priori predictions about universal as well as culturally relative effects of conceptual color associations on cognition and behavior to be systematically tested.




Tham, D. S. Y., Sowden, P. T., Grandison, A., Franklin, A., Lee, A. K. W., Ng, M., … Zhao, J. (2019). A Systematic Investigation of Conceptual Color Associations. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. https://doi.org/10.1037/xge0000703

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