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Colour language and colour cognition: Brown and Lenneberg revisited

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We report two experiments that revisit the question raised by Brown and Lenneberg (1954) concerning the degree to which colours that are easier to name are also easier to communicate and to remember. Much subsequent research has suggested that such effects depend on context and task demands. In the present experiments communication accuracy and recognition memory were compared, varying the distractor array for items that are either best examples (focal) of the eight basic chromatic categories named in English, or peripheral (nonfocal) examples of them. Focal targets were communicated faster, more accurately, and with fewer words than nonfocal targets, irrespective of array. However, they were not recognized more accurately under all conditions. With a randomized array of distractors, more akin to real scenes outside the lab, there was no recognition advantage for those colours that are easiest to code and communicate. We conclude that focal colours are not inherently more memorable.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of General Psychology, University of Padova, Padova, Italy 2: Department of Psychology, University of Essex, Colchester, UK

Publication date: April 1, 2008


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